We're not even halfway through 2012 but automakers are already introducing and selling 2013 models.
Some interesting trends are emerging, as well as some clever new ideas, including several on the 2013 Nissan Altima.
The parking lights flash as you start inflating the tire. Once the proper pressure has been reached, the horn gives a brief beep. No tire pressure gauge needed.
This new Altima turns on the headlights after four swipes of the wipers - other models do that, too - has"zero-gravity" seats designed using NASA research and gets 38 miles per gallon in the EPA highway test cycle when equipped with the four-cylinder engine.
The 2013 Altima also breaks new ground with its optional lane departure, blind spot alert and moving object detection functions. Rather than adding a separate system for each of these warnings, Nissan decided that the backup camera can handle all these tasks. In most other vehicles, lane departure warning is now handled by a separate forward-facing camera, even when there is a backup camera, and blind spot detection is usually accomplished with a separate radar unit.
Nissan also introduces another first aimed at keeping this backup camera functioning in bad weather: a lens washing system. The lens is cleaned by windshield washer fluid and then "wiped" dry by a puff of air supplied by the vehicle.
Here's a look at some of the trends for 2013:
We hear more about the demise of manual transmissions each day. Only about 10 percent of today's buyers shift for themselves, which makes Dodge's decision with the new Dart interesting. The company will offer the Dart with the buyer's choice of three different engines and each will be available with either an automatic or manual transmission. There may be hope yet for people who cherish a well-executed heel-toe downshift on a manual, even if it's only purpose is to smooth the turn into the driveway.
Fuel efficiency is also on the front burner today, and it's not just our recent flirtation with $4 a gallon gasoline that's motivating the trend. Stiffer federal fuel efficiency standards are just over the horizon.
As a result, it shouldn't be surprising that manufacturers are embracing fuel-saving technologies. Toyota, one of the leaders in gasoline-electric hybrids, is expanding the Lexus hybrid line by adding the 2013 ES 300h to the lineup.
More and more automakers are rolling out sophisticated driver-vehicle interfaces for so-called "infotainment" systems, which combine information retrieval and entertainment functions. Voice command is becoming increasingly available, even on cars with low sticker prices. Whether people should be placing cellular phone calls verbally and listening to text messages is another issue.
However, as one vehicle manufacturer said when placed on the defensive regarding this issue, "Look, we know people are going to do these things while driving. We're trying to make it less distracting, so drivers don't have to take their eyes off the road." It's a point worth making and not without some validity; though abstaining completely from these activities would be far safer.
"New and improved" in the auto industry was once synonymous with new sheet metal draped over an existing platform and drivetrain. Today, "new and improved," more often than not, really means what it says.
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This content was prepared by the Marketing Department of The Hartford Courant without involvement of the News Department