The American Automobile Association (AAA) has recently named its top picks for new vehicle technology.  This biennial list is developed by a team of automotive experts and aims to feature various interesting vehicle technologies intended to improve safety, increase performance and reduce the environmental impact of the newest automobile models in the market.  

According to the AAA National Director of Auto Repair and Buying Services John Nielsen, “Every model year, automakers find new ways to employ technology in their vehicles to enhance the driving experience.  While many of the innovations continue to focus on safety and performance, we’re also seeing more new technologies that address the environmental impact of the vehicles we drive, which is evident in this year’s list.” 

AAA’s experts claim that not all new vehicle technologies have a positive effect on the vehicle’s function or the driver’s safety.   In support of this claim, Nielsen added that “Many new technologies can distract drivers who end up multi-tasking behind the wheel, which takes their focus off the primary task at hand—safely driving the car.” 

Given these guidelines, here are AAA’s top picks for the latest new vehicle technology:

All-Electric Vehicles – The Nissan Leaf is the first to market from a major car brand in this category.  The Leaf can be a practical option for many commuters with its estimated 100-mile range between charges.  Performance-wise, it is a smooth drive and has a well-designed interior, with the power consumption measured on a cents per mile basis.  Basically, its electric power costs less than half of even the most fuel-efficient vehicles.

Plug-in Hybrids – The cars in this category provide the combination of having an electric car and the driving range of conventional gas-powered vehicles.  Examples include the award-winning Chevy Volt and the upcoming plug-in Toyota Prius, which is set to operate in all-electric mode for a limited local range, after which a downsized gas engine will be used to either power up the vehicle or recharge the battery while driving.

Turbo-charging and Super-charging – In the past, these systems have been known to enhance the vehicle performance; however, they can also improve fuel economy.  These systems allow automakers to install smaller engines that burn less fuel during normal driving, while at the same time being able to offer the performance of a larger engine when the driver needs to accelerate either for passing or merging.  One example of such technology is Ford’s EcoBoost, which was recently included into its F-150 models.  Other carmakers are already in the process of following suit. 

Inflatable Rear Seatbelts – Mercedes-Benz and Ford are working with this technology which is expected to present a large measure of airbag protection not just for the front-seat occupants but also for the rear passengers.  These seatbelts, when inflated, can spread the force of the impact over a larger area of the body, and reduce the possibility of big injuries.

Start-Stop Technology – This technology is already quite common in other parts of the world, but is still on limited release in the U.S.  The start-stop technology in the U.S. is being introduced in the mainstream market through the Mazda’s i-stop feature.  This technology automatically shuts off the engine when the car is at a stop, and then restarts it when the driver takes his foot off the brake pedal.  This is usually found on gasoline-electric hybrids, but a more widespread application of this technology can have the potential to save a huge amount of energy in non-hybrid vehicles, especially in urban environments.

Variable Valve Timing – In the past, this technology was limited to the more expensive performance and luxury models, but now, it is available in almost every vehicle price range.  Variable valve timing creates more engine power while offering greater efficiency and lower emissions.  Now, this technology can be found in many car models from different carmakers like Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda and BMW.

Enhanced Stability Control and Rollover Protection – This technology was first introduced in the 2011 Ford Explorer.  The curve control senses when a driver has entered a turn too quickly which can cause a crash, particularly in SUVs, crossovers and pick-up trucks that have high centers of gravity.  The curve control backs off the throttle and, if more assistance is needed, it applies the brakes.  Ford declares that this technology can reduce vehicle speed by 10mph in merely one second in order to help the driver maintain control in these curves.     

Diesel Engines – Diesel engine technology has actually been around from decades, but the difference from then and now is that newer technologies have eliminated the smelly, noisy, smoke-belching and rough-running diesels.  The more modern diesel engines are a lot cleaner, quieter, more refined and have more power.  The modern versions are also economical as they provide a 30% boost in fuel economy with a corresponding decline in carbon dioxide emissions compared to gasoline engines while offering the same performance.  Volkswagen is one of the top performers in this area with its TDI diesel engines.  Mercedes-Benz, for its part also has BlueTEC diesel power plants.

Alternator Recharging Programs – Toyota and BMW limit the alternator recharges the battery to higher engine speeds or when the car is slowing down.  For the driver, this means improved engine performance while idling.  It also improves fuel economy.

The American Automobile Association was founded in 1902 and has over 52 million members.

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