Happy Motoring 2000

future car
In the 1950s, memorable General Motors ads showed us the future. A decade later, television took us even further, as programs such as The Jetsons seeded dreams of a driving experience where the sky's the limit.

At the turn of century, George Jetson's reality is not yet ours, CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr reports. "We're gonna have to wait another hundred years, maybe, before we ever see that," says Automotive News publisher Keith Crain. "This is not a world of George Jetson, it's a world of Fred Flintstone."

It's true that automobile design and technology have not changed all that much in decades. But today's cars are packed with more gadgets, and tomorrow's promise even more.

Ford is developing a car that literally talks to its driver. It can deliver messages, connect you to the Internet and send out faxes -- all, according to design engineer Mark McCarthy, in response to voice commands.

And for those who want to match a face with the voice, there'll be video e-mail from the steering wheel.

That's if your car has a steering wheel. For customers trained on video games, Mercedes is road-testing the F-200, a car with a joystick instead of a wheel. Joysticks and computers are also replacing drawing boards and clay models when it comes to future design.

In Ford's virtual reality lab, technical specialist Paul Stewart can lay out a new car in thin air. He explains that the technology is useful for determining, "if I'm designing the steering wheel to be in a comfortable location."

On the safety front, smart airbags down the road will adjust to the size of the passenger. And they're designing cruise control that won't let you run into the car in front of you.

And under the hood, Honda is already selling the "Insight," a car powered by both gasoline and a big battery that gets 70 miles to the gallon. Cars will also get cleaner -- Honda says one prototype gasoline engine will actually clean the air.

"On a dirty day now in Los Angeles or Houston, it can actually have lower emissions in the tail pipe that we're actually bringing in fresh to the engine," says Honda's Robert Bienenfeld.

Ultimately, cars makers may be able to do away with gasoline altogether. One car being developed runs on Hydrogen. Its exhaust? Harmless water.

Though these new cars sound great, what about a Jetson fantasy? Crain laughs, "If you think the skies are crowded now, put a few million cars in the air and would be real dodge-em cars."