Ford's new six-speed automatic will debut on the 2007 Ford Edge and Lincoln MDX crossovers. Ford claims up to a 7 percent increase in fuel economy over a typical four-speed automatic.
Let the music play
The best original-equipment sound systems once were reserved for luxury vehicles. Today, many car buyers want a better sound system in their vehicle -- even low-priced vehicles.
"The growth of home theater in people's houses has really pushed that," Wu says.
Take the 2006.5 Kia Optima EX, which has a sticker price of $19,995 including shipping. A nine-speaker, eight-channel, 360-watt Infinity premium stereo system is standard.
What's next? Mainstream satellite radio.
Kia and Hyundai are the only carmakers to announce that they will make satellite radio standard. Hyundai will phase in XM Radio on some 2007 models this year. Kia's installation of Sirius Radio will begin for the 2009 model year. The vehicle owner pays a monthly service fee, which today is $12.95.
Other makers offer satellite radio as an option.
Stuart Kagel, an analyst for Janco Partners Inc. in Denver, expects 59 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States by 2010 to have satellite radio as standard equipment.
Many safety features came from the luxury segment.
For example, BMW introduced stability control to the U.S. market with its 7-series cars in 1992. BMW added head curtain airbags in the United States in 1998.
Federal regulators are prompting the spread of safety features, too.
CSM Worldwide's Robinet says federal regulations are likely to mandate additional safety equipment. He cites a decision by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require tire pressure monitors as an example of the trend.
But much of the pressure to put such features into midrange cars as standard equipment is coming from the bottom of the market -- Hyundai and Kia, specifically.
Take side and head curtain airbags. All Kia vehicles with the exception of the Amanti come standard with six front, side and head curtain airbags. The Amanti has eight standard airbags. The Kia Rio, with a sticker price of $11,310 including shipping, has six airbags.
"In terms of perceived value, six airbags are perceived to be a big deal," said Ian Beavis, vice president of marketing for Kia Motors America Inc. "To me that is essential."
Hyundai offers six airbags, antilock brakes and stability control as standard equipment on several models. The 2006 Sonata with that equipment stickers for $18,495 including shipping.
Other automakers have been slow to match Hyundai and Kia in standard safety equipment.
For example, the redesigned 2007 Toyota Camry is equipped with six airbags and antilock brakes. But stability control is a $650 option. The 2006 Ford Fusion offers optional side and head curtain airbags, priced at $595. ABS is a $535 option. Stability control is not offered.
Safety-related premium features are more likely than other luxury features to become standard on mainstream vehicles in the future. The decision by Hyundai and Kia to make such equipment standard will pressure competitors to do likewise, says J.D. Power's Wu.
He says, "That is how they are going to be pushed downstream."
You may e-mail Rick Kranz at [email protected]