Eat Your Heart Out, Hasselhoff

The latest auto technology puts Knight Rider's K.I.T.T. to shame.
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This story appears in the January 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When cars are smarter than drivers, it's time to tip your hat to auto manufacturers. While in-car concierge services (such as OnStar) and GPS navigation systems are practically medieval by now, the new e-vehicles are loaded with dozens of devices to help you drive safely and handle office chores at the same time.

Jill Amadio has reported on the automotive industry for 24 years as an editor and consultant.

Safety First

Here's just a sampling of the flood of safety devices appearing on the 2001 models:

Too many dented fenders? Ultrasonic reversing/parking sensors chirp signals if you're dangerously close to other cars or obstacles, giving you plenty of warning to brake. You'll find them on Ford's Windstar, Taurus, Explorer and Mountaineer this year. Other systems in the works will warn of frontal collisions and automatically brake if a crash is imminent.

Instead of having you manually disengage your cruise control when traffic conditions force you to slow down, and then re-engage it, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) does it all for you electronically. Developed by Delphi Automotive Systems, the system detects vehicles 450 feet ahead and adjusts your speed to maintain a gap of one, two or 21¦2 seconds.

Lane-change assistance systems use detectors mounted near the taillights and side mirrors. These act as peripheral vision when yours is blocked and beep if a car is in the way when you activate your turn signal.

Coming from Chrysler are tiny cameras that replace side-view mirrors, displaying traffic around you on a small dashboard screen.

OnStar's updated system automatically tracks your location and sends emergency services when the airbag deploys.

All About "E"

Hands-free, in-car communication is a goal for all car-makers, and some of the most advanced smart electronics and wireless telematics, such as syncing your cell phone with your Palm PDA for hands-free Internet access, already appear on new models. Look for them in Fords, Jaguars, Lincolns, Mazdas, Mercurys and Volvos, as well as many General Motors models.

Mobile computing is a given these days, but how about seeing information projected onto the windshield so you're not distracted by having to watch a dashboard display? These head-up displays aren't new, but their application is changing from merely projecting your speed and fuel onto the windshield to allowing the driver to program other data.

But Wait, There's More

Here are some more innovations you might want to include if you're in the market for a new car this year:

Tired of trying to gauge how warm or cool you want to be in your car or truck? Some Chrysler models, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee, eliminate guesswork with an infrared sensor that "feels" your body heat to deliver precisely the desired climate for front-seat occupants.

Power sliding doors have proved so popular that minivan and SUV manufacturers are now adding power liftgates, power tailgate windows and power rear windows on panel vans, some with remote control. For even more convenience, the Toyota Sienna and Ford Windstar have power sliders on both sides of their vans.

Pontiac Bonneville's remote keyless entry remembers your favorite radio station; when you unlock the doors, the music or news is already playing.

GM's 2002 full-size passenger truck will be equipped with QuadraSteer, an electronic four-wheel steering system with exceptional maneuverability at lower speeds, added stability at higher speeds and better trailering capabilities.

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