NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Where has the majority of the innovation in the auto industry been centered in the last couple of years? Ask yourself if all of this sounds familiar from reading Car & Driver magazine, attending glitzy auto shows, or listening to a slick pitch from a car salesman.
Infotainment system: Ford (F) led the infotainment movement with its Sync system from Microsoft (MSFT), but now the likes of Tesla (TSLA) and General Motors (GM) have installed larger touchscreens in the center consoles that are helping to control life while navigating the urban jungle. Soon, you will be able to order Dominos (DPZ) pizza from a Ford sync system, as seen here. I expect on-demand ordering via the car, and autos that are connected to one another, to be waiting in the wings.
Exterior: If you were to carefully look at the newest models shown at the recent New York International Auto Show or Beijing Auto Show, the exteriors have more holes to bring air into the car to keep it cool. Combined with weight reduction initiatives, automakers continue to find interesting ways to boost fuel economy.
Creature comforts: Taking a page from Apple's (APPL) playbook, automakers are paying greater attention to the driver experience inside the car. From heated steering wheels to well-placed cupholders to video screens that alert, to runaway shopping carts, cars are better able to adapt to the driver's needs and the curveballs thrown from the outside environment during a trek to work.
Unknown to many motorists, and dare I say auto executives, are smart highways and dirt repellent paint. Although the concept of a smart highway addresses the innovation not being brought to crippled and outdated U.S. infrastructure, they are likely decades away from becoming reality due to cost. On the other hand, dirt repellent paint is already being tested, and could be a premium option to check off when ordering a new car.
Being hyped by an industrial designer in Europe, a smart highway has three characteristics:
- The highway is embedded with technology that can visually communicate when the road is slippery and generate electricity for its own lights.
- Dynamic paint is used on the road to communicate weather and traffic changes.
- Yes, there is an "Innovation Priority Lane", a lane where an electric car is automatically charged as it speeds down the road.
Aside from this Euro-derived idea, a U.S. company called Solar Roadways has been testing roads embedded with solar panels. Costing $6,900 for a 12x12 panel, the hypothetical highway would reduce the need for asphalt, concrete, electricity for road lights, and even salt during a storm as the road is heated.
Dirt Repellent Pain
Developed by a firm called UltraTech International, and tested in concert with Nissan, this paint repels water and oils. According to Nissan, it "prevents splashes from puddles or road spray." The product reminds me of a still relatively new waterproof hoodie from Under Armour (UA), and should scare the merchants at Pep Boys (PBY) and AutoZone (AZO) that are responsible for stocking shelves with wax and soft cloths.
-- By Brian Sozzi CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, analyst to TheStreet.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.