2015 Washington Auto Show: Form, function converge

One word that comes to mind to describe the more than 700 new vehicles representing 42 manufacturers at the 2015 Washington Auto Show is “convergence” – not only in form, but also in function.

Over the past decade, auto manufacturers have devoted much of their research and development to technologies addressing consumers’ demands and the government’s regulations on safety and fuel economy. Nowhere is it more apparent in the improvements in driver assistance systems for detecting obstacles and controlling the automobile.  That long list includes an anti-lock braking system, adaptive cruise control, traction control systems, forward collision warning of impending collision, automatically initiates braking without driver using the brake, Lane Departure Warning against unintentional lane shifts, electronic stability control through automatic computer-controlled braking of individual wheels, backup camera, automated parking system, infrared night vision, and adaptive headlamps.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends new car buyers to look for some of these features in their new purchases, but it turns out that the manufacturers are already introducing many of these safety devices, either as standard or optional equipment and systems. It is clear that the manufacturers are promoting these features and functions as enhancements to the value of the cars as well as marketing tools. If one were to ask what’s new for 2015, the answer is that most if not all have similar features in safety and efficiency.

What does this mean to the car buyers? It means that “trickle-down economics” works – at least in the auto industry. The technologies developed to improve safety and crash worthiness for the luxury brands have now trickled down to the rest. As a result, the consumer is reaping the benefits both in safety and efficiency, and at reduced costs. For example, the 1991 Acura Legend only had a driver-side airbag. Now, you are unlikely to purchase a car such as a Honda Civic without passenger-side and side-impact head airbags included as well.

Within each class of vehicles, even the frames or the forms of the vehicles are converging, but at a higher level. From the side view, the all-new 2015 Toyota Camry is almost indistinguishable from the 2015 Honda Accord. The Camry is also inheriting the Lexus spindle grille.

When function converges, the convergence of form is not far behind. Form follows function?  What’s next? What about heads-up display, reclining back seats, Wifi connectivity? Can the luxury cars stay ahead of the pack? What about taking an entirely new divergent path such as the Toyota Mirai FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle) and Honda FCV Concept? Personally, I am looking forward to 2016.

Photos: 2015 Washington Auto Show
all photos by Kwai Chan / Meniscus Magazine


Video: 2015 Washington Auto Show
video by Mai D. Chan / Meniscus Magazine