For the first time in a century, American cities are growing faster than the suburbs surrounding them. For Sheryl Connelly, a trend forecaster at Ford, the shift foreshadows the auto industry’s future. She largely credits “young people and their appetite for an urban lifestyle” for the migration into cities.
It takes about three years for a car to go from concept to production, so consultants like Connelly, who try to predict the preferences of future car buyers, are steeped in research about the millennials—individuals born sometime between the mid-1980s and the early 2000s. “Millennials would rather lose their wallets than their cell phones,” says Connelly, who sees technology gaining increasing importance to drivers. “In the past, a car had appeal because of horsepower, torque, and engine size. Today, cars have to perform on many more fronts—I like to think of them as toolboxes on wheels.”
This year, manufacturers debuted a flurry of cars outfitted with features custom-tailored to urbanites: high-design, electric-powered models; sleek interiors inspired by contemporary furniture; smartphone apps that track a vehicle’s diagnostics; compact sizes; and even cyclist-detecting safety technology. Here we present a sampling of the latest fleet on or about to hit the market.