It’s all about the technology, says the latest update from the car industry’s trade body.
The US Consumer Electronics Association says its latest report on consumer buying practices shows consumers are spending on average almost twice as much on cars online as in stores.
But it’s not just about buying the best technology available.
What about the drivers and passengers?
What happens if the software and the cars don’t work out?
“You get a pretty different experience when you drive in the car, because the drivers are much more intelligent,” says Mark Mould, senior director of consumer insights and information technology at the ACCI.
“You’re much more aware of what’s going on, you know when to turn the key, you can turn the stereo, you have all these things,” he says.
“When you’re in the front seat of the car it becomes more like being on the highway, because you’re paying attention to what’s happening.”
“The cars that are in service, you don’t pay attention to them,” he adds.
The biggest difference is that drivers are more intelligent.
“In the front seats, the drivers get very good situational awareness,” Mould says.
When they’re driving on the road, they know their position and direction, and can use that to determine when to slow down and stop.
But, he says, that’s a big change from the way the industry treats its passengers.
“It’s a real problem because they’re all in the same car,” he explains.
“They’re all talking to the same person, they’re talking to each other.”
So why not let passengers be their own boss?
“In terms of driver and passenger control, the consumer is the driver, the passenger is the manager,” Mold says.
That’s a good thing.
“The way we’ve built the car is it’s really about driving safety,” Milds says.
The new system means cars are safer and less likely to have accidents.
The cars in service are more than likely to be equipped with automatic emergency braking, automatic lane departure warning and even cruise control.
And with more advanced safety systems like lane keeping assist and self-parking, cars are much less likely than before to be involved in a crash.
It also means drivers are less likely get into trouble.
In the US, accidents involving drivers are on the rise, but crashes involving passengers are declining, says Mark Jaffe, chief research officer at Autotrader, a firm that tracks car-safety trends.
“I think that’s the biggest factor,” he told ABC News.
“There’s a lot more driver monitoring and monitoring of the cars, and I think the cars are doing much better.”
That’s partly because the cars that get in more accidents are being equipped with a lot of sensors that help them monitor what’s actually happening on the roads.
It’s also because the software in most cars today is quite good, says Mould.
The carmaker is already rolling out a new system called Autopilot, which takes the driver out of the loop.
But Mould warns that this is not a silver bullet.
“If you take the car out of driver’s control and just assume that drivers and the passengers are going to be in control of everything, it’s going to not work well,” he warns.
“And that’s where the problem comes in.”
The biggest problem with the current system is that it’s only good for one type of car, and that’s one that doesn’t have any driver-assistance systems.
It has cruise control, automatic braking and lane keeping.
“So, if you don and the car starts to slow, you’ve lost control of the vehicle,” Molds says.
So, what about the other cars?
The ACCI’s Mould notes there’s no need for the cars to be driverless.
It just means they can be programmed to react to different types of traffic and situations, he explains, such as pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers.
And, like with the cars already in service that have more advanced systems, these cars are more likely to use those systems.
That means they’re more likely, and more likely they’ll get a crash than if drivers and riders were in charge.
“But it also means they won’t get into that big crash, and so they’re safer,” he concludes.
That is good news for consumers, especially if they want to drive in a car that’s capable of driving safely, Mould adds.
“We need to get into the habit of using the right technology in the right cars.”
Read more: What to expect from the new autonomous car system, including how the technology will affect the way we drive, here.
Read more: The new car tech: What it looks like, what it’s about and how it will change our lives, here