Features New Cars Ought to Have… But Don’t

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

I’ve ranted about stuff new cars come with that seem over-the-top, unnecessary — stupid, even. The obnoxious back-up buzzer in the Toyota Prius hybrid, for instance. Headlights that stay on all the time, even in bright July daylight — and which you can’t turn off.

But how about stuff cars ought to have — or at least, offer?

* Ceramic electric warm-up heaters –

One of the things that makes winter miserable is a cold car. It takes a few minutes, at least, for the engine to produce enough heat to warm up the car’s interior (and de-ice the exterior glass). How about an auxiliary ceramic-electric heater to bridge the gap? Instant-on heat! It works in the bathroom — why not in the car?

You can already buy one of these small/portable units and — using the cigarette lighter outlet — get some warmth in your car right now… instead of 5-10 minutes from now. But why hasn’t any car company thought to offer one in the car, integrated and ready to provide some BTUs at the touch of a button? It ought to be doable. Modern cars have powerful electric systems and running an electric heater for the couple of minutes it takes before the engine is warmed up and can take over ought not to stress the system much.

So why not? At least, not yet? Probably because no one’s thought about it much. Here’s to hoping they will.


* Mini-microwave –

Cupholders have become one of the single most important design aspects of new cars to many people — because so many people spend so much time in their cars.

Drinking coffee — and eating.

But coffee — and food — gets cold. The solution? A small microwave, built into the car. Why not? Several new cars already come with factory-installed ‘fridges. The fact is cars have become less about driving than enduring a long drive. The focus is less and less about how aggressively a car can corner and more and more about how quiet and comfortable it is. The autonomous, self-driving car is on the cusp of mass-market reality. Many new cars already have built-in Wi-Fi. The next logical step is a way to nuke your coffee in between A and B.

Cue Captain Picard. Make it so!

* Wing vent windows –

Many new cars have a fixed-in-place section of glass just ahead of the front door glass. In the past, this section of glass was not fixed in place. The driver could rotate the glass open, which deflected outside air into the car, cooling the car without the need for AC.

This is an idea that ought to be resurrected.

Most people can’t live without AC — because it’s impossible to keep cool without it. And rolling down the window doesn’t work because it doesn’t direct airflow where it’s helpful. Instead, it just musses your hair.

Wing vent windows let in just enough air — and the flow can be directed just right.

You’d think this would be a no-brainer, given the lengths to which the car companies are willing to go to eke out a fraction of a mile-per-gallon here and another fraction of a mile per gallon there. Cylinder deactivation. Auto-stop. Direct injection. Aluminum bodies. All expensive as hell — for very little gain.

Wing vent windows, meanwhile, could be done on the cheap. And would make it feasible to offer cars without AC — and thereby lose the weight of the AC components, as well as the drag on the engine — which would save more than a fraction of a mile-per-gallon.

But, there’s less profit in selling cars sans AC — and that may be the reason why no one’s offering a new car with an alternative to AC.

* Diesel hybrids –

Ever notice that most heavy-duty back-up generators are diesel-powered? The reasons being: The generator runs longer on diesel than it would on gas. Diesel engines are also by design at their most efficient operating at low RPM, which increases economy of operation (as well as reduces noise). They’re tough and durable, too.

Keep in mind that the IC engine (whether gas or diesel) in a hybrid serves both to propel the car and to act as a generator — producing electricity to keep the hybrid’s battery pack charged up. A diesel engine would provide the inherent fuel economy advantages of diesel power and would be ideal (or at least, more ideal than a gas engine) to serve as an onboard generator for the electric side of the hybrid powertrain. And — bonus — a diesel hybrid could — at least in theory — be designed to burn bio-diesel fuel. Which is both renewable and cheap (compared with at-the-pump diesel).

So, why aren’t any hybrids diesel-powered? Probably, the main reason is cost. Diesel engines are more expensive to make (and so, cost more to buy) than gas engines. Hybrids already cost more to buy than an otherwise equivalent gas-engined car. If a diesel-powered hybrid cost say another 10 percent more, it might be harder to convince people to buy them — notwithstanding all the very real advantages just discussed.

Especially now that gas is selling for under three bucks a gallon again.



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