In-Car Tech

USB-A vs. USB-C ports: Answering questions you have about your car but forgot to ask

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Pinnacle interior with the new integrated Ultra console. A new LED light feature on the wireless charging system provides information on the charging status: a blue light indicates charging, red a foreign object detected and green signifies charging is complete.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

If you're reading this, it's a safe bet that you own both a car and a smartphone. And, if I'm going to be presumptuous, it's likely that you have your smartphone in your car whenever you're driving somewhere and that you probably want to charge your phone when you're in your car.

But this isn't always an easy endeavor, especially if you have a brand new car. So here's a quick walkthrough of the various USB plugs you might find in your new car — as well as the various plugs you might find on your smartphone.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid The 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid has only USB-A ports up front, alongside a wireless charging pad.The automaker labels these ports with their available charging power.Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

The standard rectangular USB that's available in most cars from the past ten years is called the USB-A outlet. It's the one that's particularly frustrating because you'll inevitably try to insert the plug upside down. It's pretty universal, and, depending on your car, will either provide just power or (more likely) will let you play music and other audio through the stereo system.

One thing to note is whether it's a "high-power" port or not. Some newer vehicles will output up to 2.4 amps from their port, while older (or cheaper) cars will provide much less power. It's even possible that, if you're using the GPS on your phone for example, it might not even offer enough power to actually charge up your phone.

The USB-A is the most common and universal plug — but there's something new that you'll be seeing more and more.

Newer vehicles (and newer computers) might have the newest and fanciest USB-C plug. It has rounded edges and is much smaller, more useful, and more powerful than the older USB-A plug.

2020 Toyota RAV4 Adventure The 2020 Toyota RAV4 Adventure hides its AUX ad USB-A ports below a labeled hatch in the center console.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

First, and perhaps most importantly, you'll never insert your cable upside down ever again — it works whichever way you plug it in, which is particularly useful. Second, it's capable of providing much more power to your device, charging it much, much faster than the USB-A port if your car supports it — and some USB-C outlets might even be able to power a laptop.

Regardless of which plug you have in your car, high-quality cables are essential and are extremely cheap. I prefer Anker's Powerline cables, and they come in a huge variety of colors, lengths, and types. If you have an iPhone, you can get a three-foot Anker USB-A to Lightning cable for under $10 each, and a USB-C to Lightning cable for a few dollars more than that. Spare cables are always a nice thing to have, and these are some of the best you can buy.

If you have an Android, things are slightly more complicated because there are a few different possibilities for what plug your phone might have. There are a few options, but double check which plug your phone has before you buy and you'll be prepared for whichever USB port your new car has!

Finally, there are adapters that allow you to go from USB-C to USB-A to use your old cables with the new-fangled outlets on the new car, but they're as much as a replacement cable would be, so you're better off just buying a new, high-quality cable for about ten bucks.

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Electric vehicles

Three new EVs we can't wait to see

The F-150 Lightning is just one of several new EVs we'll see soon.

Ford

With all the crazy news coming out of the auto industry this year, it'd be easy to believe that the rollout of new models is slowing to a snail's pace. The pandemic and ongoing microchip shortage have slowed vehicle production, to be sure, but they haven't put the brakes on automakers' push to roll out exciting new electric vehicles. In the next few months alone, we'll see several new electric trucks, cars, and SUVs hit the market, some of which will break new ground and help define their segments. We're on board with this trend 100 percent, and to help you get excited, we've rounded up a few of our favorites.

Here are the three upcoming electric vehicles we're most excited to see.

Ford F-150 Lightning

One of the world's best-selling and most popular vehicles is going electric. The Ford F-150 Lightning is set to arrive in 2022 with a fully electric powertrain, forward-looking technology, and a familiar style that will make any truck lover feel at home. We don't have full details on the truck, but Ford has shared some awe-inspiring performance numbers. The Lightning will offer around 563 horsepower and 775 pound-feet of torque, which should push the truck to 60 mph from a standstill in just four seconds. Payload capacity comes in at up to 2,000 pounds, and towing will reach 10,000 pounds for specific configurations.


Ford F-150 Lightning The Lightning will offer impressive capability in a familiar package.Ford


The Lightning's starting price will come in under $40,000, but don't get your hopes up about actually buying one for that amount. Ford says the entry-level Lightning is a commercial truck that will be a stripped-down work-ready vehicle, which likely means features like vinyl seats and far fewer of the desirable tech goodies that you'll want. To get the truck you and your family will want to drive, you'll need to spring for the XLT model, which starts just shy of $53,000. That's quite a bit more, but it is still a somewhat reasonable price to pay for what will surely be a capable electric pickup.

Mercedes-Benz EQS

The S-Class is a unique model in Mercedes-Benz's lineup. The car typically showcases the automaker's latest technologies and design techniques and offers a glimpse of the features that eventually trickle down to the rest of Mercedes' vehicles. Soon, we'll see the EQS, a fully electric flagship sedan that paves the way for the brand's other electrified offerings. The car will have a range of well over 400 miles on a charge, up to 516 horsepower, rear-axle steering, and breathtaking technology.


Mercedes-Benz EQS The EQS will usher in a new electric era at Mercedes.Mercedes-Benz


The EQS is expected to land sometime late in 2021 and will carry a price tag that matches its premium brand name and top-notch feature set. Pricing for the "entry-level" EQS 450+ will come in at around $100,000, while the top EQS 580 4MATIC will land well north of that number. Remember, though, that Mercedes offers a long list of ultra-desirable options for its cars, so you'll likely shell out more than the base price to get the features you want.

Hyundai Ioniq 5

The Hyundai Ioniq name is nothing new, but the way it will be seen in the automaker's lineup will change significantly going forward. Rather than being a model name within the Hyundai catalog, Ioniq will split off and become its own sub-brand, covering a line of electric vehicles of all types. The Ioniq 5 is the first such vehicle and will be offered in single- or dual-motor configurations that generate 225 or 320 horsepower. The car's futuristic design is attractive and features a pixelated look for the front-end, lighting features, and rear. Inside, the vehicle is clean but comforting and offers the features buyers expect in a family crossover.


Hyundai Ioniq 5 The Ioniq 5 is the first in what will be an entire line of new EVs from Hyundai.Hyundai


The Ioniq 5 should go on sale in late 2021 and is expected to cost between $40,000 and $50,000.

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Biden will target 50 percent of all vehicle sales for EVs by 2030.

Ford

In the last several months, we've seen automakers from all corners of the globe commit to some degree of electrification by the end of the decade and beyond. That includes the American Big Three: Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Stellantis (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, others). Today, President Joe Biden plans to throw his weight behind these efforts by signing an executive order that sets a goal of pushing the sales of zero-emissions vehicles to half of all vehicle sales in the U.S. by 2030.

Biden's target is not legally binding, but the industry is already jumping on board. In a joint statement, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis confirmed that they aim to hit an EV sales volume of 40-50 percent annually. It's worth noting that the President's 50 percent goal and the automakers' sales targets also include plug-in hybrid vehicles, which still use a traditional gasoline engine.


Jeep PHEV The target also includes plug-in hybrid vehicles, which still use gas engines.Jeep


Auto unions and dealers are not opposed to the ambitious roadmaps laid out by the Big Three, but both have differing views on what is essential and how things will ultimately play out. While aware of the goals, the UAW is focused on wage growth and the preservation of jobs and benefits. It feels that an increase in EV production volume must happen here in the U.S. to include good-paying American union jobs.

Dealers, to a degree, are supportive of the goals but skeptical of their ultimate success. Some feel that electric vehicles do not present the earth-shattering shift in functionality and usability that other new products, such as smartphones, did in different industries. Regardless of concerns and skepticism, it appears that automakers are going all-in on the shift to electrification, so we're bound to see a wealth of new battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in the next few years.


GM battery facility rendering Automakers are pledging billions to increase EV and PHEV production volume.GM

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