My crystal ball is cloudy at the moment, but you don't need magic to make predictions, just common sense. Here are 9 predictions that seem inevitable to me. At least they do in the interregnum between Christmas and New Year's Eve, 2015.
1. Your next car will drive itself
Not all the time and not with you in the back seat. But it will have features that let you drive hands- and pedal-free under "geo fencing" conditions, i.e., on the highway and in certain traffic jams. This equipment is already on upmarket vehicles, from adaptive cruise control to self-parking and lane keeping. Appearing first on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, for instance, traffic-jam assist puts the car in control of steering, braking and accelerating at speeds lower than 37 mph.
2. Everyone will have an SUV
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The Jaguar F-Pace is the latest in a long line from automakers who never before would contemplated building one. Lamborghini will offer a boxy off-roader in 2018, based on the Urus concept car. Aston Martin's is the DBX. Porsche has a whole range of SUVs now. Are there any companies that won't build an SUV? Ferrari is still saying "No." (though it has the 4WD FF wagon thingy), and so is McLaren.
Brand-new VWs at the Port of San Diego. Expect a 17 million sales year for 2015, and more through 2018. (Photo: Port of San Diego/flickr)
3. 2016 will be a great sales year
The auto industry remains on a big roll. IHS Automotive predicts 2015 will come in at 17.3 million U.S. sales, a number not seen since 2000. And 2016 will be stronger still, at 17.8 million, followed by 18.2 million in 2017. After 2018, the company sees a leveling off, though.
Mark Rosekind, the new NHTSA administrator, is cracking down on car industry safety problems. (Photo: New York City Department of Transportation/flickr)
4. Cars will be safer
I love the direction the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is going in. After decades of wimpiness and lax enforcement, the agency has retained Mark Rosekind as administrator and grown a pair. "There's a new sheriff in town — and he's cracking down on the U.S. auto industry," said the Detroit Free Press. In addition to going after automakers for safety violations (most recently, BMW, hit for $40 million) he also advocates putting seat belts on school buses. What, they're not there now? Cars will also be safer because of advanced technology (like the aforementioned lane keeping), stiffer structures and passenger safety cages.
5. CD players are out
Tomorrow's infotainment starts with your cellphone. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (which I finally took on a road trip, courtesy of a Honda Civic) will dominate in 2016.
6. Tesla will get competition
Elon Musk is soaring right now — even his SpaceX rocket landed safely! But things will get tougher in the next few years, as Faraday Future finally shows us the electric car behind its curtain, Porsche rolls out the Mission E, Audi the Q6 e-tron and a few other high-tech, high-performance EVs come online from startups. The real danger is from the mainstream automakers, because the Tesla formula isn't rocket science — big batteries, big electric motors, cool styling and tech features.
Jay Leno (with Tim Allen) is finally free of that pesky TV show and has more time for cars. (Photo: Alan Light/flickr)
7. Jay Leno will buy more cars
He's Jay Leno. He buys cars. Is there a better collection in America? Check out his CNBC show here.
The early Porsche 911S is in a crazy bubble. (Photo: Jeremy/flickr)
8. Some collector car bubbles will burst
I'm not predicting an overall downturn for classics, but certain cars — the Porsche 911S, many Ferraris — just seem absurdly overvalued right now. The rarity level doesn't justify the huge auction prices (like $189,750 for a '67 911S). C'mon! The 911S was a mass-produced car. I could have bought one for $3,000 once. People are even paying six figures for Porsche 912s. Crazy. They have VW four-cylinder engines.
9. The 2017 Fiat 124 will sell well, have teething problems
I'm enthused about the return of this lithe Italian sports car, especially because it has reliable Mazda Miata underpinnings. But I bet we'll still see some problems (hopefully minor) with its Italian-made bits. I predict good sales when it debuts in 2017 because a) it's pretty; b) there are few two-seat roadsters on the market now; and c) the idea of an Italian-designed Miata has appeal.
The original, built between 1966 and 1980, was a heartbreaker — a gorgeous car that handled like a miniature Ferrari, but rusted as soon as you turned your back on it. Nearly 200,000 were made, and 75 percent were sent to the U.S. market. My neighbor is certifiably insane; he owns one, and keeps it outside.
Here's my safest prediction: That poor car, shiny now, will succumb to the tinworm.