Automotive technology advancements lean heavily toward safety

Jeff Bobo • Apr 8, 2020 at 12:41 PM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article ran in the Kingsport Times News Progress Edition on March 1.

ROGERSVILLE — The 1982 Sci-Fi film class “Blade Runner” predicted that in 2019 we'd all be driving flying cars that drive themselves.

In 1989, “Back to the Future II” had us using garbage instead of gasoline to fuel cars by 2015.

Although we haven’t quite achieved that technology yet, in 2020 vehicles are doing more than ever before to warn of danger, prevent wrecks, prevent breakdowns and even keep us better entertained while we travel.

Chris Johansen is a father of two young children who appreciates not only modern safety technology that helps keep his family safe, but also modern technology that helps keep his daughters occupied on long trips.

Johansen took over ownership of the Rogersville Chevy, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep dealership in January 2017. The Times News sat down with him recently to discuss the latest technological advances that are rolling off the assembly lines and onto showroom floors these days.

KTN: First of all, what is the secret of the “invisible trailer” we keep seeing on commercials?

Johansen: “Basically there's a separate camera attachment that straps to the trailer that you're towing that helps provide the invisible trailer affect.”

KTN: They don't tell that part in the commercials.

Johansen: “Of course not. It doesn't actually make your trailer disappear. General Motors is not David Copperfield. It's just an additional camera that gets installed on your trailer, but it's a super neat feature.”

KTN: Are more cameras becoming a pretty standard feature on new vehicles these days?

Johansen: “When you talk about heavy duty trucks and all the camera capabilities now, you've got multiple camera positions when you're hooking up to your trailer. You never have to get out of your vehicle other than to lower the tongue onto your tow ball. You can monitor additional cameras via WiFi to the system so that, for example, if you've got a horse trailer and you want to keep an eye on your horses, you can hit a button and it will show you what's going on inside that trailer.”

KTN: WiFi seems to be an important component of new vehicles these days as well.

Johansen: “We've come a long way adding WiFi to vehicles that we didn't have before. A lot of people love that feature. If you lost power at your house and you have work to do, go start your car, plug your phone in, and you can sit there and do everything you need to do from your automobile. We're seeing people spend more money on higher-end vehicles because they're using them as an office. It's basically an internal router in a vehicle. What I don't get is how it's so inexpensive. It's like $20 a month and you've got 4-G WiFi through Verizon. If it’s that cheap for my car, why do they charge me so much at my house?’

KTN: I imagine that WiFi is a must-have fore families with children?

Johansen: “Absolutely. I've got two small kids, and if an iPad goes down, the world is ending.”

KTN: And then there's the TVs behind the headrest, which isn't really a new innovation, but whoever came up with that was a genius.

Johansen: “There are still new things happening there. Chrysler, in my opinion, has everybody beat on the TV monitors. We're beginning to see more screens that fold down into the back of the front seats, and then they fold up to be watched. Aesthetically that's very nice when it's closed and out of the way, but it also allows for a much larger screen. But you can now stream from you phone or tablet right to that screen or use wireless hookup. They're coming pre-loaded with games. There’s one behind each seat and they can both watch something different, or watch the same thing on their own TV. It really is making road trips a lot more luxurious.”

KTN: How is technology making vehicles safer?

Johansen: “Lane departure is a great safety feature. If you start to drift or you change lanes too slowly it will try to pull your car back into the lane. Another safety feature is adaptive cruise control, which works the same sensors as your brake assist. You'll set your cruise control on the highway and as a vehicle comes into range it will go ahead and either slow you down or cancel out your cruise control so you don't rear-end them or get too close.”

KTN: Are there technological advances that were new a couple of years ago that are becoming more standard on new vehicles these days?

Johansen: “Now you're seeing a lot of safety features that used to be optional or only on your high-end or highest trim vehicles — those features are now becoming standard across the board. Backup cameras were a new high-end feature, and now its standard on everything. Navigation was becoming more and more common, but now that’s being replaced with Apple Car Play and Android's version of it, where you just plug your phone in and your screen becomes a mirror of your phone. Some of the features that were new and technologically advanced a couple of years ago are already becoming standard. Brake assist, where if someone pulls out in front of you it will automatically hit the brakes — you're seeing that standard on a lot of vehicles. Your blind spot monitors on your mirrors. Now we've got everything from mirrors that have lights in them. Chevrolet has a little mechanisms in the seat that will actually vibrate and send tones if there's a vehicle in your blind spot.”

KTN: What is the public asking for in automotive technological advances?

Johansen: “One big one that we get requests for all the time is called cross path detection. When you're in reverse, or you're backing out of a parking spot or your driveway, a lot of times you might look one way, look the other, and before you've looked back somebody has come around the curve, or turned down the same lane you're trying to back out of at the grocery store. The sensor will send the same type of audible alerts and notifications through your seat to let you know someone is coming. That seems to be the one we get the most requests for.”

KTN: How close are we to having self-driving cars for sale in your dealership?

Johansen: “Not even close. When you look at Tesla and what Elon Musk is trying to do, I think that is the future of the automotive industry. Alternative fuel sources and things like that will become more mainstream. I don't think they'll ever be 100 percent of the market in our lifetime. But if you look at some of the issues Tesla is having with the self-driving cars not functioning properly, having errors — they're computers. NASA probably has the best scientists on planet Earth and they still have issues and hiccups.”

KTN: So for the foreseeable future you will be driving your own motor vehicle?

Johansen: “Yes. That system has worked for 100-plus years now. Some people want technology just to be cutting edge. Obviously, automotive manufacturers want technology to stay one step ahead of the competition. But when it comes down to it, the safety improvements are the best technological advances we've made.”

KTN: What's the most technologically advanced vehicle you can drive off your lot today?

Johansen: “Any of out high-end products. The Limited and Summit Grand Cherokees all have those safety features. All the high end Chevrolet trucks and SUVs — the Silverado, the Tahoe, the Suburban. Traverse. Equinox. Really you can get all of the most advanced safety features in the entire product lineup. Even Jeep Wranglers now have blind spot monitors, brake assist, adaptive cruise controls, automatic windshield wipers, tire pressure monitors. Customers are wanting it.”

KTN: What'will we see in the foreseeable future?

Johansen: “I think they're going to do things to make vehicles more fuel efficient, a little more EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) friendly, and continue to add safety features. We're going to see them eliminate the ability to text while driving a vehicle. When you compare a vehicle we’re driving now to what was ‘new and innovative’ in the 1990s, they certainly have changed a lot. It’s scary to think 20 years from now what we may be looking at.”

Flying cars that run on garbage instead of gasoline?

Johansen: “No, they still can’t get them to self drive. Alternative fuel sources will always be relevant, but it’s not in the media like it once was.” 


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