This year saw automotive technology turn into a political hot button.
Late in the year, President Bush signed a sweeping energy bill that sets higher fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. But the politics of global warming and growing concern over energy use were apparent in the auto industry throughout the year.
The New York auto show's Taxis of the Future exhibit and the many green-themed cars showcased at the LA Auto Show, Tokyo auto show, and Geneva auto show this year illustrated a continued shift toward car technology with fuel efficiency in mind.
We saw thoughts on city transport vehicles, robot vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and plug-in hybrids. In addition to far-out concepts for the real road and for the virtual road, many companies introduced fuel-sipping improvements such as Toyota's gas-saving valve engines, a diesel-powered Volvo that gets 52 mpg, and electric vehicles you can buy right now.
But hydrogen fuel seems to be the most hyped technology this year, if not a true contender, for the way things will go down long-term. Several companies are working to develop hydrogen energy technology, an alternative-energy darling with several municipalities and the U.S. Department of Energy.
The beginning of a high-tech onslaught of automation and computer technology in cars also became evident. Automakers unveiled plans for their 2008 car models that included tech options like Bluetooth, self-parking, lane departure warning systems, and adaptive cruise control--features previously restricted to luxury models.
Some owners of those high-tech cars struggled with the design of the human-machine interface and programming a car computer for the first time. Partnerships between major tech companies and automakers were also forged, with many announcing plans to have a greater presence at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show.
Roboticists also took the combination of artificial intelligence and the coming robotics revolution in cars further than ever. The DARPA Urban Challenge race featuring robotic cars took to "city" streets this year to prove autonomous vehicles have a future.
The small and young driver space heated up with the Audi A1 and VW Space Up concepts that could compete against the "carbon-conscious" yet fashionable BMW Mini if they go into production as predicted.
And in what may be the most intriguing saga of 2007, Porsche got control of Volkswagen after a lengthy court battle and almost immediately announced plans to revamp the German automaker into a high-tech powerhouse that could compete with Toyota in terms of global sales. Next year may reveal if that high-tech car dream could come true.
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