To a degree not seen since the early decades of the 20th century, vehicles are being reimagined, reconfigured and recast in their role in society.
No longer is it enough to go from point A to point B in style and safety. Today, vehicle engineers are tackling challenges such as how to limit a vehicle's impact on the environment, how to keep occupants connected and informed, and how to reduce the chance of driver error in such mundane tasks as parking.
Consider fuel. By the 1920s, the gasoline internal combustion engine had won out over kerosene-produced steam, diesel and electricity to become the fuel of choice for light passenger vehicles.
Today, engineers and automakers are reconsidering diesel and electricity, not to mention compressed natural gas, biofuels and hydrogen.
A wide range of technologies designed to boost fuel efficiency are being tested. Automakers face the daunting challenge of boosting their U.S. corporate average fuel economy for cars and trucks combined to 35.5 mpg by 2016 -- and know that the target is likely to go up again after that.
Some technologies already are widely installed in vehicles. Others won't pan out. But a large number of new technologies are poised to take off.
It is a golden age of automotive innovation. Automakers and suppliers are flooding patent offices with ideas. And they're not just minor tweaks or fringe ideas.
This special section focuses on the technologies that are on the cusp of widespread use. They may be on two or 12 vehicles in 2010 but appear poised to become far more common within three years. The list includes:
-- Stop-start systems
-- Cylinder deactivation
-- Automatic parking systems
-- Gasoline direct injection
-- Innovative air conditioners
-- Low-rolling-resistance tires
Of course, not all technologies take off -- or deserve to. As a reminder that sometimes what seems like a good idea isn't, the section closes with a list of technologies that one reporter wishes would just go away.