There’s an app for that
New in SA: park a car with a smartphone app
Park a vehicle using your finger and a smartphone app: that technology is coming to SA soon
High-end brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have updated smartphone apps for their vehicles so drivers can check information such as fuel levels, range, tyre pressure, climate control, or even book a service.
Some also pair with a smartphone and integrate with calendar entries, allowing you to send directions from your next appointment directly to the vehicle.
And in a development that is just about hitting SA, expect to soon be able to park a car with a smartphone app.
Mercedes-Benz has introduced this feature on its 2017 E-Class Coupé and Sedans, and is expected to roll it out to the 2018 S-Class and S-Class Maybach ranges.
Remote Parking Assist requires an iPhone or Android smartphone to be paired to the vehicle. Once the mode is activated, the driver steps out and uses a circular gesture with any finger on the app, continuously until the car is manoeuvred into the bay; if your finger is taken off the screen, the car will pause.
BMW has a similar feature on its 7 Series and 5 Series, using the car key instead of a smartphone. You can control the vehicle with the touchscreen Display Key but within limits — you can only manoeuvre it 10m forwards or backwards. And don’t misplace the Display Key because a replacement costs nearly as much as a smartphone.
Jaguar Land Rover offers a waterproof "activity key", useful for swimmers who can use a wristband to lock and unlock, even when the keys have been left inside the vehicle. This feature is an optional extra, and is priced separately.
Pairing a smartphone to a vehicle has gone beyond just Bluetooth pairing. Apple’s CarPlay first became available locally in 2016, and manufacturers today who support it include but are not limited to: VW, Ford, Chevrolet, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Kia. It allows iPhone users to get basic access to calls, messages, music, and navigation in an interface that is similar to iOS. While Android Auto will work on these cars too with the same functions, it is not yet available through official channels in SA.
The future of locking and unlocking a car entirely with a smartphone is almost here. Mercedes-Benz says that select 2018 E-Class and S-Class vehicles will have NFC chips embedded on the door handle, which allows drivers to hold their handset against the handle to unlock it.
The motor industry takes roughly three to five years to develop a new vehicle, and when the car hits the market, some of the technology can feel a bit dated.
Mobile tech, on the other hand, is advancing so rapidly that consumers want to access the same information on their handset inside their vehicles.
But what else can consumers expect to see inside new vehicles?
3D laminated glass (which improves safety), haptic sensors (recreating a sense of touch for devices), and augmented reality head-up displays — which offer driver alerts, safety aids, and warnings on invisible screens embedded in the windshield — have entered the vocabulary of traditional suppliers, PwC’s automotive industry trends report says. The autonomous car will further up the ante, and soon.
In SA, trends such as head-up displays, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and active parking assist to aid drivers have been available from a number of manufacturers over the years.
Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo have "semi-autonomous" features where a car is capable of steering, braking and accelerating on its own, usually on a highway up to a certain maximum speed.
Self-parking — where vehicles actively find a bay using external cameras and sensors, and park for you while your hands and feet are off the wheel and pedals — has been around for a while. Even the affordable Opel Corsa has this feature as an optional extra.
But parking your car with a smartphone app is still novel.
In the next year or two, expect electric vehicles to come to SA, including the second-generation Nissan Leaf. Tesla’s Model 3 is expected to be available from "late 2018" for those who pre-ordered and paid a deposit online. But there are worldwide delays, which means it may only get to our shores by 2019. Perhaps the 25% import duties on electric vehicles would have come down by then.
One of the most eagerly awaited autonomous driving production vehicles for 2018 is the new Audi A8. Its "Traffic Jam Pilot" feature is capable of driving the car autonomously, without the driver doing anything. New hardware such as ultrasonic, radar, and laser sensors and forward-facing cameras allow for this next-level autonomy. Audi SA says the vehicle is expected in the second quarter of 2018, but cannot confirm if the Traffic Jam Pilot will be operational upon launch. We’re keeping a close eye.