RANKED: The 18 best car innovations of 2016

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Rolls-Royce

Cars are becoming more computer-like everyday.

We’re not just talking about advancements in self-driving tech, either. Automakers know that cars today have to be smart and easy to use.

A lot of these innovations can still only be seen in concept cars, but they offer a glimpse of how companies are working to radically change the car of the future. Scroll down for a closer look.


18. This concept car is loaded with innovative features, but the one we can’t stop talking about is its wheels.

The wheels on the BMW Vision Next 100 concept are essentially one with the car, allowing them to make this beautifully sleek movement when the steering wheel is turned. It’s a really tiny detail, but it shows a new interest in rethinking the general design or aesthetic of a car. We just hope changing a flat tire isn’t too cumbersome if this ever comes to fruition.


17. Lexus’ concept SUV, the UX, gives us a sneak peek of how cars will one day drive around without any mirrors.

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Lexus

Unveiled at the Paris Motor Show, the UX has cameras instead of side view mirrors.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a concept car without mirrors, but it’s worth paying some extra attention to the feature showing up on a Lexus. Japanese automakers got the OK in June to make and sell mirrorless cars, making it one of the first countries to embrace the technology. Considering Lexus is owned by Japanese automaker Toyota, we’re likely to see more of this tech in use going forward.


16. Not to harp on the Lexus UX too much, but it’s also worth pointing out the Kinetic Seat concept that comes with it.

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Lexus

The seat is made of a web of threads that are designed to stabilize head movement and hug the body to make prolonged sitting more comfortable. While we can’t tell if this seat is comfortable without sitting in it, we commend the fact that Lexus is thinking of changing the conventional design of seats to improve the overall driving experience.


15. How could we not draw attention to this driveable electric car that looks like a spaceship?

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United Nude

Designers from a shoe company dubbed United Nude spent five years building this eccentric electric car. There aren’t any doors, so electric actuators lift the entire body up so you can hop inside. It doesn’t lose its bizarre nature once you get inside, either, as it comes with a hexagon-shaped steering wheel.

It only has a range of 31 miles, but it’s 31 miles of a super sweet ride.


14. This futuristic, TRON-esque concept car gives a real look at how car interiors are bound to change with advances in autonomous tech.

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Rolls-Royce

The interior of the Rolls-Royce Vision 100 concept car showcases the kind of future we want to see when driverless cars are made readily available. Since there’s no need for a driver, the entire interior is a two-seater, silk sofa staring at a beautiful OLED TV screen.

It’s encouraging to see automakers experimenting with car interiors, something that hasn’t changed much from an aesthetic perspective in several years. Other automakers have experimented with revamped interiors, like front seats that turn to face the rear, but this is one of the more intimate and luxurious interiors we’ve seen yet.


13. Mercedes’ stunning Maybach concept highlights how radical the cabin of the future will look.

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Mercedes-Benz

Several automakers are experimenting with heads-up displays and transforming the cabin into a more futuristic, sleek cockpit. The Maybach really takes it to another level, though. It has a bank of digital displays all over the cabin, including the windshield. It’s a concept asking us to bid goodbye to clunky infotainment displays.


12. This bizarre-looking electric van is designed to work with a drone to optimize package delivery.

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Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes’ Vision Van is part of a $562 million investment over the next five years to create a network of all-electric vans and drones for a rapid delivery service.

The van has a fully automated cargo space that loads packages and alerts the driver when approaching a drop-off location for one of them. It will then push that package through a hatch on the roof so a drone can grab it and fly it to the right location.

It’s still unclear when we’ll see the van in use, but it’s an interesting step showing Mercedes’ intent to revolutionize the logistics of package delivery.


11. This stunning concept car has hexagonal vents on the hood of the car that move up and down to circulate air. But in addition to being a practical feature, it also makes the car look like it’s breathing, which isn’t something we’ve seen before.

Like United Nude’s spaceship-like electric car, this Trezor concept made by French automaker Renault also comes with a top that lifts all the way up. But it also comes with a lot of other innovative design features, like a luggage compartment built into the front so you have room for your items without needing a separate trunk.


10. But while we wait for displays like the one in the Mercedes Maybach concept, startup Navdy has created a heads-up display that can make any car high tech.

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Navdy

The Navdy display can easily attach to any car’s dashboard and lets you accept calls with the flick of a hand. It also puts directions, your music options, and other pertinent information in your line of sight so you can keep your eyes on the road.

Harman, a major supplier of car infotainment systems that Samsung is buying in a deal worth $8 billion, recently invested in Navdy for an undisclosed amount. The partnership allows Harman to sell the co-branded display to automakers, specialty auto and audio channels, and select mobile carriers globally beginning in January 2017.


9. This concept car’s welcome system gives us a hint of what it will look like to live in a future where you share a car, rather than own one.

The concept mini car was built for a future where ridesharing is common – something you can summon when you need it, but drives other people when you’re not in it.

Naturally, not owning a car means losing a certain amount of personalization with it. But the Mini Vision can identify who you are and greet you with a personalized light display. The doors then swing open in a sleek fashion so you can hop right in.

It’s a small innovative feature that shows how automakers are considering ways to make a car still feel like your own even when ridesharing.


8. The Honda Clarity was recently given an estimated range of 366 miles by the EPA — the longest range of any zero emissions vehicle

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Honda

Honda is leasing the Clarity in California. It costs around $60,000 and has a targeted monthly lease of $500. It can refuel in just three to five minutes.

Hydrogen cars are interesting because they have perks EVs still don’t have, like longer ranges and a faster refuel time. But without a real network of hydrogen stations to support them, hydrogen cars will have a difficult time going mainstream.

Still, the Honda Clarity shows how automakers are making hydrogen power a reality.


7. Tesla’s latest software update comes with Cabin Overheat Protection so your dog doesn’t get overheated in the car.

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Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

The feature lets owners set a max temperature for their Tesla so that kids and pets won’t get overheated if they’re left inside. Tesla CEO Elon Musk actually said it was his favorite feature to come out of the Version 8.0 update.

It may not be a super sophisticated feature like some of the ones of this list, but it’s practical and useful for anyone who has ever felt guilt leaving their dog behind on that quick run into the grocery store.


6. Audi set up the very first vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication system in Las Vegas.

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Motor Authority

Some Audi cars – the A4, Q7, and A4 allroad models built after June 1, 2016, to be exact – come with a timer that will tell you when the light will turn green in Las Vegas. Audi accomplished this by linking 1,000 traffic lights to the car to create the first V2I system. Audi plans on bringing the connected infrastructure to other cities in 2017.


5. Amazon is innovating how people actually buy cars by partnering with Fiat Chrysler to sell cars online for the first time.

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Amazon

Fiat Chrysler will sell its 500, 500L, and Panda models on Amazon’s Italian website. The move came a few months after Amazon launched a vehicle browsing website called Amazon Vehicles. Although consumers can only buy cars on Amazon’s Italian website, some investors think the option will eventually go live in the United States.

The move shows how the classic car dealership model of buying cars is bound to face more competition. Tesla already circumvents dealers to sell its cars directly to customers. Soon, you may be able to fill your Amazon basket with a brand new car.


4. Uber launched its Pittsburgh pilot program that allows a select few users to hail a self-driving car, allowing the public to really see how these cars will work on public streets.

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Business Insider/Corey Protin

The cars are still very much in beta mode and come with a safety driver and engineer up front. We got a ride behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber and saw firsthand that the cars are in no way ready to go out without someone in the driver’s seat.

But the Pittsburgh pilot marked the first time members of the public could take a ride in a self-driving car through a ride-hailing service. Since then, Uber launched a pilot in San Francisco, though it hasn’t gone off as smoothly. (The California DMV is threatening legal action if Uber doesn’t obtain an autonomous vehicles license for the San Francisco pilot.)

Both pilots mark a significant step in the self-driving car space to make the tech more accessible to the public.


3. The Chevy Bolt gets a top spot on our list because it’s the first affordable, all-electric range with a competitive range and will tell us a lot about the EV market.

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Chevrolet

The Bolt was rated at 238 miles of range by the EPA and comes with a consumer-friendly price of $37,500 before federal tax credits. It’s available in dealerships in California and Oregon, but won’t become more widely available until spring 2017.

The Bolt will be an indicator of sorts, helping us to see what the consumer demand is for an affordable EV with a competitive range, Dan Ammann, president of General Motors, told Business Insider.


2. Tesla’s battery upgrade announcement is such a huge milestone for electric cars that it ranks second on our list.

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Tesla

One of the biggest, if not the biggest, issues holding electric cars back is the range issue. It can be difficult to justify shelling out thousands for a car that can only drive 100 miles or so on a single charge. No one wants to deal with the anxiety of running out of battery and not being near a charging station, as my colleague Matt DeBord experienced.

That’s why Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s recent announcement about the battery upgrade is such a big deal. The new battery upgrade extends the range of the Model S with Ludicrous mode to 315 miles per charge, making it the first electric car on the market to exceed 300 miles of range. Tesla, as well as other automakers, still have ways to go in the electric car space, but this is a milestone worth remembering.


1. A former race car driver paralyzed from the neck down was able to drive again thanks to the features Arrow Electronics built into this 2016 Corvette Z06. Because it has a direct impact on someone’s life and shows the vast potential of driverless tech, the Arrow car ranks number one on our list.

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Arrow

The former professional racer, Sam Schmidt, is able to control the steering by wearing a pair of sunglasses equipped with motion-tracking sensors. When Schmidt moves his head, the sensors send that information to an onboard computer that then controls the wheel accordingly.

Schmidt can also control the speed by blowing into or sucking on a straw attached to the sunglasses. He was recently granted an autonomous vehicles license in Nevada that allows him to drive the car on public streets, marking the first time a quadriplegic has driven a motor vehicle out on real roads.