What's coming down the assembly line: cars with more features, style

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When it comes to more choice for the price, anyone shopping for a car these days is already in the driver's seat. ``The products are improving fast from all the competition -- it's a very pleasing scenario from the consumer's standpoint,'' says University of Michigan expert David Cole. He notes that the average life of a car is now 11 years, for instance, and is expected to increase to 13 years by 1992.

In the near future, he says, style and other specialized features will become more important than quality which is improving across the board. The Japanese edge in ``perceived'' quality from the finish to the fit of the doors is fast disappearing, he says, just as is the American edge in ``hidden'' quality. That includes such areas as crashworthiness and structural integrity.

Dr. Cole says he expects to see the same mix of car sizes as now but with some larger, more-efficient cars added. In the next five to 10 years, he says, much more powerful and lighter-weight engines will be developed. The use of electronics in cars will spread into such areas as anti-lock braking, ignition control, cellular phones, and advanced diagnostic capability. ``When you take your car into the dealership for service, you'll know what's wrong with it,'' he says.

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Also, he says, the hassle of buying a car is likely to be reduced. The shopper will no longer tour a lot full of cars but perhaps shop from a three-dimensional hologram at the dealer's, to which can be added different colors and trim. The car would not be built until ordered, but could be available within a week or two.

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