Calling it an “unprecedented decision,” Hyundai Motor Co. plans to completely eliminate not just cigarette lighters but the familiar round jacks they plug into from all off the vehicles sold in the home market, a move that could herald similar steps worldwide, officials said.
The jacks will be replaced with newer USB connectors that can be used to plug in smartphones and other devices. Hyundai noted that using a USB port can recharge a phone as much as “seven times faster than when using a separate portable charger.”
The auto industry has been steadily shifting policies favoring smokers since Chrysler began eliminating ashtrays from some of its products in 1994. Today, most of the automobiles sold in the U.S. no longer offer that once-ubiquitous feature – though, in many cases, smokers can order one that slips inside an existing storage nook in the door or center console.
With fewer people smoking in the U.S. and Europe, manufacturers have also been pulling out cigarette lighters, though they have generally decided to keep the familiar, round jack, relabeling them “accessory sockets,” or “power receptacles,” among other things.
And consumers have found more and more ways to make use of them, from radar detectors and portable navigation systems to accessory map lights and even such things as kettles and hair dryers. In fact, many vehicles now come with more than one plug to handle the various devices consumers need to power up.
At the same time, carmakers have begun to offer USB ports in more and more vehicles, especially those equipped with upgraded audio and infotainment systems. The plugs are most commonly used to allow access to the music stored on iPhones and other smartphones and MP3 players.
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Some analysts have suggested the USB port could itself go away as more and more vehicles are being equipped with wireless Bluetooth audio connections. But that approach makes it difficult to keep an electronic device charged. Another solution is the wireless charging systems now available in the Dodge Dart and other vehicles.
USB ports may be good for charging up cellphones but several electronic component suppliers contacted by TheDetroitBureau.com cautioned that they would not serve as a true replacement for the cigarette lighter, or if you prefer, the familiar 12-volt power receptacle. They do not put out nearly as much power and couldn’t handle as heavy a current load as some devices, such as radar detectors and navi units, might require.
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Even if they could, it would require consumers to buy another power adapter, with the potential for loss that inevitably brings.
The irony of Hyundai’s announcement is that the maker appears to still plan on catering to Koreans who tend to smoke more than motorists in the U.S. and other markets. Its announcement noted that, “the in-car ashtray will remain the same.” Apparently, the maker expects its customers will either carry their own lighters or perhaps purchase the next-generation smartphone including a touchscreen lighter.