Video: Innovations drive new car design

By Phil LeBeau
updated 1/18/2007 3:31:51 PM ET 2007-01-18T20:31:51

From electrically powered cars like the Chevrolet Volt Concept Car, to new models reading e-mails, technology is driving Detroit's future.

"If you're not at the leading edge of technology, you're not going to be able to play this game," says Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Historically, new car innovations have been a selling point.

"A telescopic steering column that lets you tailor the steering column to suit your own personal driving presence," said one ad for the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.

While some ideas catch on, others do not: Like TVs in the back seat of the 1958 Oldsmobile Holiday.

This year's concept cars have plenty of features you'll likely never see on the road.

"It's a styling exercise and it lets the designers really flex their muscles," says Csaba Csere, the editor in chief of Car and Driver magazine.

Csere is excited by the practical innovations in new models, like the Chrysler minivans' swiveling seats.

"As soon as your kids have been in a car with the swivel seat, they're going to say, 'Mommy, I need the minivan with these seats,'" he says.

Ford's F-Series pickup, hitting showrooms next month, includes a step-down tailgate.

"They have added a step here and a handle, so you step up, you hold on, [and] an old man like me can get up in comparative safety," says Csere as he demonstrates.

From the Pacer in the ’70s to the new Camaro, how a car looks draws buyers into showrooms. But whether or not they buy it ultimately comes down to how much utility they find. So automakers are building in more features, like fold-down second rows, and in the back, more options and more ways to carry around stuff.

"It's that kind of magical thing that manufacturers are always looking for that pushes a person to be a purchaser of your product versus somebody else's," says David Cole.

Detroit's challenge is turning that optimism into sales.

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