Scholars who have decoded Mayan tablets have concluded that the world will not end in 2012. Now that that's out of the way, let me get on with my fearless predictions for the year ahead on The Green Highway.
1. Detroit's comeback will accelerate based on environmentally responsible small cars. Last year, the Detroit Three all had good years and 2012 will be even better. They are finally building cars that people like me want to buy. That hasn't happened in decades. The Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze are both winners and I can't wait to see what the new Dodge Dart will be like. These are all small cars with terrific fuel economy that ride and pass crash tests like big cars.
2. New fuel economy regulations will begin changing "everything." The huge story of last year was that the Americans officially committed to corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg (4.3 litres/100 km) by 2025. And that's on top of the 2016 requirement of 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks. Canada will follow along. These standards seem next to impossible to meet but they will be met. In 2012, you'll see a hundred different ways that auto makers are setting up for the challenge: GM's e-Assist, Mazda's SkyActiv, Fiat/Chrysler Multiair, etc., etc.
3. Intelligent transportation solutions will move noticeably closer to reality. Studies have shown that you can cut a large city's carbon emissions from transportation by about 20 per cent if you get the traffic to move optimally. This requires that the cars know where all the other cars are and go somewhere else on their way to their destination. Delivery fleets are dabbling in this now; look for fast progress in telematics to bring this to your car soon.
4. Car sharing is going to grow, big-time. You won't have to go to some rental office to fill out forms to rent a car in 2012. Cars are going to be located all over the place and your smart phone will lead you to them and open the door. Use it like a taxi and drop it off wherever. This is probably how you will drive your first all-electric car too – and there are so many of those coming that I won't take up space listing them here.
5. Cars will start to become part-clinic, part-beauty salon, part-spa. Ford, for example, is working on making its in-car telematics system – SYNC – able to monitor health conditions in drivers. It has a deal with medical device maker Medtronic to let a driver wearing a Bluetooth-enabled glucose monitoring device get audible instructions from the car's infotainment system while watching blood glucose levels trend up and down on the dash mount video screen. Lexus now has an air conditioner which moisturizes your skin using negatively-charged ions in water droplets delivered through the AC. Imagine what you could do for a pampered passenger. The sky's the limit in this category.
6. Smart phone apps will put you in the car rental, parking and camping business. There are companies that will let you rent out your vehicle when you are not using it. An automated entry and tracking system means that you don't have to be on the spot to do the transaction. There's another company (that BMW has invested in) called ParkatmyHouse.com that lets you rent out your driveway or garage as a short-term parking space. Another one sends campers to pitch a tent in your back yard. Computers do all the paperwork and deposit the money in your bank account. Sounds too good to be true – and you know what that generally means.