In the last decade, engineers have rethought the transmission. Instead of traditional gears, many cars now have what is called the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). One type of CVT is the Cone CVT, while another example of this transmission has two pulleys, both of which are made of multiple parts and a variable center diameter, known as a Variable-diameter pulley (VDP). The gears change when the chain belt moves up or down on one of the VDPs or cones. This is achieved when one of the pulleys, or a slide on the cone, changes the diameter of the area where the chain rests. The CVT has been in use for decades in jet engines and race engines, but has only been adapted for ordinary street vehicles in the last few years. These transmissions can attain higher speeds without the need for a clutch.
The CVT is not the only innovation in transmission technology, either. Hybrid cars, themselves a constantly evolving technology, use something called an Electric Variable Transmission (EVT). The EVT may also be called a Power-sharing Transmission or a Power Split Transmission (PST). The reason this transmission is known by multiple names is that, in addition to its ability to change gears in the same manner as the standard CVT, it can also change its power source, enabling the ability to change from an electric motor to an internal combustion engine or to use both at the same time. Both Toyota and General Motors use these transmissions in their hybrid vehicles.
There have been many advances in automotive safety in the last decade. In addition to multiple auto-braking systems, which takeover when the car’s sensors detect a need for braking that the driver has not met, there are several other new features on the market. The Lane-Keeping Assist System (LKAS) not only makes everyday driving easier, but it also helps avoid collisions in the even that an unsafe driver nods off at the wheel. Honda and Mercedes have both instituted systems that automatically change vehicle settings like brake pressure and seat-belt tension, when it sense a crash might be imminent. For those times when an accident can’t be avoided, the use of a Black Box or OnStar cut emergency response times and provide other helpful services.
Sources: Mechanic interviews/personal experience