Electric ignition, automatic windshield wipers, power steering, airbags, and cruise control—standard automobile equipment— once dazzled the public. In the mid-2000s, Bluetooth, navigation systems, and parking sensors were offered only in luxury vehicles. Now they are included, at least as options, even in economy cars. In the last decade, and especially the last five years, automobile technology has developed exponentially; drivers are protected, connected and more comfortable than ever, in high-performing, stylish vehicles that leave a smaller carbon footprint. North Country dealerships now offer attractive, comfortable and high-performance sedans, SUVs, hybrids, and trucks that are energy efficient and safe.
Constellations of cameras, monitors and sensors assist and protect drivers. Back-up and side-view cameras, pedestrian and obstacle detectors, blind spot monitors and parking sensors ensure safe navigation. Braking systems that stop the car when a frontal collision is imminent, sensors that alert the driver when he or she has drifted out of their lane, and adaptive cruise control that adjusts the speed to keep the car a safe distance from other cars reduce accidents. Families with teenage drivers can set controls so that fledgling drivers buckle up, keep the radio volume down, and adhere to the speed limit. In the event of an accident, roadside assistance technology can alert and guide emergency services.
Energy Efficiency Technology
The first known plans for a hybrid car, a vehicle engineered to use two distinct kinds of power, were drawn in the 1670s by Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish Jesuit priest and astronomer, for Chinese Emperor Khang Hsi. Verbiest’s miniature four-wheel unmanned “car” ran on steam. It took 330 years—until 2000—for the modern hybrid, an automobile that runs on gas and electricity, to enter the showroom. Since then, customer demand has increased and automobile manufacturers have included hybrid cars, trucks and SUVs in their product lines. Enhancements in battery technology for these hybrids keep increasing how many miles a driver can go on one charge, and cities and towns are installing charging stations. Drivers can go further on less expensive fuel and feel good about reduced carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Car Maintenance Technology
Using email or text messages, technology makes alerting customers when their vehicle needs routine maintenance—such as an oil change, tire rotation or brakes check—efficient and accurate. With service scheduling technology, customers can connect directly to a dealership’s service calendar, view appointment openings online and select a time that fits their schedule. Computerized car diagnostics assist technicians in diagnosing any problems. This information, along with photographs, can be sent to a customer to help make a repair decision.
Connectivity and Entertainment Technology
Not surprisingly, sound systems in cars continue to improve in terms of quality and speakers. Drivers can subscribe to Sirius, or plug in their phone to listen to their own music. In addition, screens on the seat backs of cars can play a child’s favorite video and even allow them to see on a GPS where they are on a long journey, alleviating the “are we there yet?” scenario. Pickup truck beds are becoming their own camping and entertainment centers with speakers installed and tents designed to fit. In-car internet is available as is keyless entry, and pushbutton starting ensures that no one is ever locked out of their car again.
Dealerships in the North Country: Embracing and Adapting to Change
Three longstanding and successful North Country dealerships – Della Honda on Route 3 in Plattsburgh, Parker Chevrolet on Route 11 in Champlain and Riley Ford on Route 9 in Chazy—are all proud to offer the latest technology in their product lines and they are constantly learning and adapting.
All of them have interactive web sites that allow shoppers to get detailed information about every car on the lot. (Today, shoppers routinely spend eight to ten hours researching online before they enter a showroom.) True to form, North Country dealerships are up to date and prepared to offer their customers the latest in products and service.
As the only Honda dealership in the area, business is brisk at Della Honda. Terry Mack, sales manager, is proud of his expanded model lineup.
“I have seven different models in each make,” said Mack. “Choices have expanded to fit different lifestyles. When I came into the business 24 years ago, things were pretty simple. Now it’s pretty technical. There are more sensors and computers in a car than ever. Cars are customized for a person’s life.”
Mack is understandably proud of the entire Honda product line, but mentioned the “totally restyled” Ridgeline pickup as a product he is especially proud to offer. “The Ridgeline has a smooth ride for people who need a truck bed only a few times a year. There is limited production right now, and we have a waiting list,” disclosed Mack. Soon to be released is a hatchback model of the ever-popular Civic.
“Honda has always been a quality leader,” said Mack. “Its quality is so good because its manufacturing process is set up to be very adaptable. They don’t need plant shutdowns for model changeovers. In addition, manufacturers have design teams to find out what’s quality trending. Honda also does a lot of testing and surveys to make sure they meet customer wants and needs.”
Offered with the Civic is the Sensing Suite, an innovative safety pack- age that includes a collision mitigation braking system, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Mack confirmed: “Honda has been one of the leading manufacturers in terms of safety for years.”
As the co-owner of Parker Chevrolet since 1993 and with 35 years of experience in the automobile sales business, Tim Parker is used to adjusting to an ever-changing market and business process.
“I now have a computer instead of paper,” said Parker. “The time management it offers allows me to spend more time on customer service. Another benefit is we can get a better mix of products to offer our customers.”
Not surprisingly, the Silverado and newly redesigned Malibu are Parker Chevrolet’s best sellers. Like all the products Parker offers, these vehicles come with OnStar and MyChevy apps. “OnStar provides security devices, turn-by-turn navigation, vehicle diagnostics and automatic crash response,” explained Parker. A new development for 2016 combines the popular MyChevy app with OnStar to offer customers easier mobile access to roadside assistance, parking reminders, the owner’s manual, Wi-Fi hotspots, and remote start and door unlock. “The MyChevy app will be a platform for the growth of future mobile services,” said Parker.
“We encourage our salespeople to spend time with customers explaining how the new technology works and how it benefits them. Sometimes we need to explain why technology is good and not just more for people to learn.”
Parker is excited about developments in the Volt, a hybrid car. “They’re enhancing battery technology to where the Volt will be able to go 200 miles on one charge,” he said.
Offering Ford vehicles from their Chazy location since 1926, current dealer principal Joy VanLeuvan and sales manager Tony Roberts discussed the new technology offered in their product line.
“One huge initiative is Ford’s Energi vehicles,” explained VanLeuvan. “By 2025, the government will require the average fuel consumption of all vehicles to be at 50 mpg. Ford will get there because we already have these models now. We really believe in fuel economy.”
Their bestseller, the F150, has just been revamped to include additional computer technology and a military grade aluminum alloy construction that is lighter, stronger and doesn’t rust. “The computer technology in our pickups is more extensive than that used on the space shuttle,” added Roberts.
Even with all the new technology, service manager Jenna Seguin finds her job easier and more streamlined. “Ford has given us updated diagnostic technology which shows a clear path to determining problems and making repairs. We’ve had fewer warranty repairs even though there is more technology.”
Continual staff training is not a problem. “It’s a priority in our business for everyone to know the technology. We all have the same drive to learn everything,” said VanLeuvan.
The most recent addition to Riley Ford’s customer service is the FordPass app. “It allows customers to monitor vehicle maintenance schedules, get roadside assistance, start and unlock vehicles remotely, and when customers visit cities, search for available parking,” explained VanLeuvan. “The app does not require a subscription.”
It looks like dealerships in the North Country will continue to offer car buyers state-of-the- art technology that handles every aspect of car buying, driving and maintenance for years to come.