The Best and Worst Automotive Trends of 2010

What a year. After the out-and-out implosion of the car market in 2009, no one quite knew what to expect from 2010. It would have been impossible to predict the rise of both General Motors and Chrysler from the bowels of Chapter 11 to the relatively comfortable perches they now occupy, or the depths to which the Toyota recall spiral would plummet. But 2010 wasn't just about big stories, either. The past year saw a horde of trends both good and bad rise to the surface, and we've picked a handful of notables to share.

Hit the jump to check them out.

Supercars go green

Porsche 918 Spyder Concept – Click above for high-res image gallery

If, like most enthusiasts, you've been eyeing the rising tide of hybrid vehicles and wondering if you should start stockpiling fuel for the coming internal combustion Armageddon, take a breath. If 2010 has shown us anything, it's that manufacturers aren't giving up on the giggle factor anytime soon. Porsche went from dipping a pinky toe into the electrified kiddie pool with its 911 R Hybrid to catapulting itself off of the high-dive and into the deep end with the announcement of the for-production 918 Spyder, and the company wasn't alone. Audi continued to make our mouths water with a rash of eTron concepts and Mercedes-Benz made it clear that its beautiful SLS AMG would soon be available with an electric drivetrain.

LEDs light the way

Audi A8 LED lights
2011 Audi A8 – Click above for high-res image gallery

It finally happened. LEDs have made the jump from the show circuit to the production line. While the tiny diodes have been serving up mood lighting indoors and fielding brake light duty for years, they've just now become mainstream equipment for daytime running lights and even headlights in high-end models. Audi may have blazed a path with vehicles like the R8 and A8, but carmakers from Hyundai to Porsche have managed to work in the tech. Lighter than traditional bulbs, LEDs suck up less electricity than incandescent bits as well. That's all fine and good for the engineers, but we just think they look sharp.

40 mpg is the new 30 mpg

2011 Hyundai Elantra
2011 Hyundai Elantra Click above for high-res image gallery

Once upon a not-so-long-ago, compact cars were measured by the 30 mpg yard stick. As models like the Hyundai Elantra, Chevrolet Cruze Eco and Ford Fiesta SFE have proven, there's nothing special about the big three-oh. As 2010 so eloquently showed us, small cars don't need complex or expensive battery technology to clear that 40 mpg hurdle. Even better, drivers don't have to give up power or a comfortable driving experience to take advantage of being able to laugh their way past the fuel pump.

The dawn of the American turbo age

MKT EcoBoost

Ford effectively opened up a floodgate in 2010 with the arrival of its arsenal of EcoBoost engines. Combining direct-injection and forced induction is nothing new, but the engine tech is hot from the oven cuisine for everyday non-performance-oriented cars and trucks. After years of sucking down cheap fuel, buyers are just now starting to realize that gasoline is going to get expensive. While Ford has perhaps done the best job branding and marketing its forced induction/direct-injection technology, other manufacturers have been doing it with increasing frequency and aplomb. Welcome to the future.

The rise of the Koreans

2011 Kia Optima 2.0T
2011 Kia Optima 2.0T - Click above for high-res image gallery

Both Hyundai and Kia have been waging a not so quiet battle to establish themselves as serious contenders in the U.S., and it seems as if they've finally done it in 2010. This year brought the introduction of cars like the Sonata to Hyundai's stable, and the complete model line demonstrates that the Korean manufacturer can go toe-to-toe with the best Japan or America has to offer in the mid-sized segments. Likewise, the Kia Optima has established itself as a welcome alternative to the flotilla of Honda Accord and Toyota Camry models out there, and the Sportage has emerged as an unexpectedly sexy and well-rounded crossover. And there are more products on the way. Hyundai's compact Elantra is waiting in the wings, and the hotly anticipated Veloster isn't far behind. Bolstered by an unbeatable warranty and class-leading fuel economy and power, more and more people are finding compelling reasons to park a Hyundai or a Kia in their driveways.

Distracted driving becomes an epidemic

Distracted driving

When the Secretary of the Transporation Department has to step in to encourage professional drivers to put away their cell phones while driving, you know that we as a society have a problem. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took it upon himself to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving during 2010, and for good reason. Some research has shown that texting while driving is as dangerous as manning the wheel while under the influence, and with thousands hurt or injured each year due to inattentive drivers, it's clear that cell phones and driving don't mix. As automakers work to find solutions to an ever-growing pool of potential in-car distractions, telematics and in-car-electronics management has come of age as one of the most important issues of the day.

Factory graphics

2012 Ford Focus shows off its tattoos
2012 Ford Focus showing off its tattoos – Click above for high-res image gallery

Few stunts sent our stomachs churning quite like the eruption of factory graphics. While Ford wasn't the only carmaker to offer gaudy "individualization packages" in 2010, we're saddling the Blue Oval with the lion's share of blame. The company got all fast n' furious with vinyl sets for the Mustang and didn't let up there. Buyers can now slather their Fiesta or Focus in tacky stickers to suite their questionable taste, and there's word that more patterns are on the way. But FoMoCo isn't alone in this travesty. Kia has been dabbling in decal packages with the Soul, as have other manufacturers. Heed our warning: keep the stickers to kindergarten and leave the cars alone.

Death by teaser

2011 Ford Explorer teaser shots – Click above for high-res image gallery

We get it. Releasing a teaser shot or two is the easiest way imaginable for an automaker to drum up buzz for an upcoming model, but there comes a point where the striptease stops being sexy and becomes infuriating. Lamborghini has been straddling that fence for years, but 2010 saw the 2011 Ford Explorer take the title as the most overly-teased vehicle of the year. With repeated bombardments of photos from the Blue Oval's Facebook minions, there was little left to the imagination by the time the utility took a bow. Here's hoping next year will see a little more restraint from the marketing departments of the world.

All mouth, no metal

Fisker Karma – Click above for high-res image gallery

It was a rough year if you're a stickler for punctuality. It seemed like every time we blinked an eye, another company was missing or pushing back a deadline on their latest earthsaving wondercar. While Fisker, Aptera and Coda were all busy showing off futuristic fuel savers only to push them further and further afield, Mahindra stung us the worst by yanking the rug out from under our small diesel pickup dreams. After signing an import and distribution deal with an American company, the Indian automaker backed out at the last second, leaving nothing but lawsuits in its wake. Hopefully everyone will get it together in 2011, but we're not holding our breath.

Japan Inc.'s fall from grace

2010 Honda Accord Crosstour – Click above for high-res image gallery

Both Honda and Toyota had a 2010 that the automakers will be glad to put behind them. Toyota saw its once spotless reputation in the U.S. deteriorate with each successive recall and subsequent lawsuit, and as such, the automaker lost ground to competitors in the eyes of new car shoppers. Honda suffered a few recalls of its own, but its woes were cemented more in products that few buyers seemed interested in. Sales of the Accord Crosstour, Insight and CR-Z are all dismal and a fraction of what the company had projected, and Acura hasn't been faring much better. Suzuki and Mitsubishi have been likewise unable to find their way out of the woods, leaving only Subaru to impress us with sales figures from the Land of the Rising Sun. With domestic manufacturers continually honing their game and both Hyundai and Kia dusting off impressive model lineups, 2010 may have been the beginning of the end of Japan's dominance over the car market in the Sates.

Connectivity comes to cars

If ever there was a double-edged sword of 2010, it was the explosion of ever-increasing connectivity in new vehicles. Proponents of tech like the Ford MyTouch say that Bluetooth integration and the ability to update your Facebook status from behind the wheel decrease distraction and keep your eyes on the road and off your phone. Detractors, meanwhile, complain that throwing additional gadgets into a vehicle's cabin isn't helping anyone. Either way, we aren't likely to see the amount of connectivity decrease in the near future. Convenience technology is here, and it's not going anywhere any time soon.

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