Two thousand and twelve proved a banner year for the automotive industry. Sales hadn't soared so high since 2007, a year before the economic downturn that threatened to nearly completely upend the market for good. Makes like Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors all posted enviable upticks in sales increases, and foreign automakers weren't left out of the financial boom: Volkswagen, for instance, posted a phenomenal 35% leap in figures last December alone.

Yet having learned sage lessons from the recent recession, the industry knows better to rest on its high-selling laurels. Consumers crave convenience and innovation and a richer experience, all of which they stand to receive in abundance from automobiles in 2013. Among the trends of note: the not-so-subtle smartphone takeover, new and improved engines, and hots for the hybrid.

Hail to the hybrids -- all over again. If you thought that the heyday of the hybrid had come and already gone, you ought to rework your definition of "heyday." Indeed, more and more automakers are looking to capitalize on the public's acceptance of the hybrid car as the best bang for their buck: it offers the fuel economy that slim wallets crave, plus the environmental advantages that make every driver feel like a green goodie two shoes.

Hybrid detractors claim that its appeal ends with the discussion of SUVs; there's just no way a big 4x4 could be hybridized and still maintain its requisite all-wheel-drive power. Enter Toyota and its acclaimed Highlander SUV model to terminate that naysaying conversation. Edmunds offers the Highlander hybrid especially attractive praise, extolling: "the Highlander Hybrid is larger and roomier... an excellent option for growing families with an aversion to oversized and thirsty SUVs."

Luxury makers are also gravitating to the hybrid craze, BMW most emphatically with its drop-dead gorgeous i8, branded as "the world's most progressive sports car" and styled to look straight out of Three Thousand and Thirteen, if you ask us.

The motor industry goes mobile. As tablets continue to replace laptops in everyday usage, and smartphones increase their pull over our lives on an almost constant basis, automakers have collectively opted to hop on the "mobile phone mania" bandwagon themselves. Those exploring the new car market can expect to encounter vehicles flaunting exceptional connectivity to the latest gizmos and gadgets.

A new wave of vehicles will likewise boast GPS/SATNAV technology, which allows drivers to directly transfer information and data from their cars' multimedia system onto their devices, either in or away from the cars themselves. The trend ought to lend an entirely new meaning to the term "automobile."

Ford Motors will get a boost from its own EcoBoost. When exactly did small become the new huge? Perhaps this "big versus little" dynamic first emerged with the impressive feats of Napoleon, the pint-sized but pugilistic world conqueror. Taking inspiration from this tradition of great leadership in smaller packaging is the craze surrounding the "EcoBoost Motor," a revolutionary engine sprung from the brain trust at Ford Motors that's actually been available for a few years in some of the company's makes and models.

Yet 2013 should see the engine's noteworthy power blast a new position at the top of every auto enthusiast's "ooh and ahh" list. The Ecoboost is a turbocharged engine that takes directly injected gasoline, a style of engine displacement that grants the engine a great deal more power -- the "Boost." As for the "Eco," the engine emits 15% fewer greenhouse gases and uses its fuel with 20% more efficiency. It seems as if the EcoBoost's reputation alone should do much for Ford in the coming year: the company's already produced 500,000 EcoBoosts for its Escape model alone.

The rise of Korea's cogent car manufacturers. Name the world's most important car manufacturing country. If you said the United States, Germany, Japan, or China, you're not exactly wrong. But if you happened to mention Korea, you've hit the bulls-eye, as far as we can augur from what 2013 may hold. Even though General Motors posted one of its best recent years in 2012, Korean brands Kia have toppled the erstwhile manufacturing giant in practically every market that matters, including Western Europe. Hyundai pocketed a cool $7 billion during the year, and Kia looks to join its automotive compatriot in equal sales for 2013.

Key to this pair's ambition to complete its rise to the top next year is its newfound self-reliance -- both carmakers have now established their own battery production, steel mills, and alternative energy design teams. Hyundai plans to harness this independence towards the fine-tuning of its own luxury automobile line, while Kia will carve out a space in the family lifestyle car sphere.

Even major auto brands plan on losing serious weight. Next year's newest cars will be economizing on much more than just fuel. In an interesting twist from the "more is more" manufacturing trends of the 2000s, this decade is seeing virtually every major automaker downsize on the several key aspects of its production priorities and traits. The frequently heralded six-cylinder engine that long characterized BMW's line has been quietly swept aside in favor of slimmer and less wasteful four-cylinder models -- a trend the luxury brand is emulating from both Ford and Volkswagen. As with the rise of the EcoBoost above, engine efficiency has also become a design style of choice for manufacturers, with a number of noteworthy enhancements debuting under the hoods of 2013's new models: sequential turbocharging, valvetrains with less heft, and reduced friction, to name only a few.

Aftermarket parts move to the forefront of consumers' consciousness. It used to be that only the most elite, persnickety auto industry insiders knew such specific lingo as "OEM," "aftermarket," and the vital difference between the terms. (For the record: both phrases relate to the origin of auto parts and components: "OEM" stands for "original equipment manufacturer," while "aftermarket" refers to any vehicle part that did not originate from the car's manufacturer directly.)

But an influx of entertainment programs and media centered on tricked out car repair/upgrade work has raised the profile of aftermarket goods, which should be more noticeable on myriad vehicles on the road as 2013 progresses. Sleek and powerful body kits, such as the TRA Kyoto/Rocket Bunny for the Subaru BR-Z, should surface as the year's most popular aftermarket hit.

And finally... Car Keys -- improved for convenience and for kids. Our tools for entry into our vehicles stand to benefit from a radical progression in technology and innovation in the New Year. Traditional modes for the manufacturing and use of car keys will step aside in favor of more modern and forward-thinking methods of automobile access and locking, methods that are at once more personal and more convenient. At the vanguard of this "new and improved keys" trend stands the MyKey from Ford Motors.

Ford's option will please frazzled parents of teenagers in particular. MyKey permits them to configure an array of programming options that help to not only keep track of inexperienced motorists but also safeguard their driving practices. Certain other key options are expected to limit maximum vehicle speed, put a cap on car speaker and subwoofer volume, and even prohibit texting while driving. Quite the renovation for what was once merely a well-shaped piece of metal.

Categories: Used Rental Cars
Tags: Buying, News
; ; ;