Eggsalad: New Automotive Power Outlet Needed

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

TTAC Commentator eggsalad writes:

In the 1950’s, everyone smoked. Car manufacturers installed electric cigarette lighters in every car. Not long after, a Very Smart Person took advantage of this universality and designed the Cigarette Lighter Plug. It was a brilliant way to get 12 volt power to all manner of accessories, from CB radios to cell phone chargers. Then folks stopped smoking. So many that car manufacturers eliminated the cigarette lighter as standard equipment. Some now offer an “ashtray delete” option. As drivers have all manner of accessories—GPS, radar detectors, Zunes, Nintendo DS, etc.—that the lighter socket itself remains. Now it’s just called a “power outlet.” Problem is, the 12 volt power outlet and its corresponding plug are absurdly large for their current functionality.

One manufacturer needs to lead the way in setting a new standard. There are plenty of already-existing connectors from which to choose. AS we can’t expect the manufacturers to get together and establish a new standard, somebody needs to be the first to pick a new socket design and run with it. There are connectors that are small enough that three or four of them could occupy the dashboard real estate currently eaten up by one cigarette lighter socket.

The free market will love it. Just like when CDs replaced cassettes, people will need to replace their existing power cords. At the very least, people will buy adapters to turn the new standard socket into a cigarette lighter-sized connector to continue using existing cables.

Step up, car companies! Who wants to be first? Oh, and then we can talk about a “standard” EV interface.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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4 of 43 comments
  • Spike_in_Brisbane Spike_in_Brisbane on Aug 12, 2009

    Commentators here keep referring to a "Standard 110V outlet." There is no such thing. AC outlets around the world are many and varied. You would not like your BMW to come with a German outlet, your Toyota to have a Japanese and your G8 (RIP) with an Australian outlet. Also the manufacturers would be saddled with meeting every country's high voltage electrical safety standards. Stick with low voltage outlets. USB is good. Aircraft seat power outlets are OK for higher power needs.

  • Niky Niky on Aug 13, 2009

    Finding adapters for the standard two or three prong plug isn't that hard. I for one, would love to drop the lighter socket. That'd be one less adapter I'd need to have for my electronic devices. Most small car electronics can be adapted for USB current, anyway... though I'm not so fond of the durability factor of USB sockets, and finding a wire that has the right capacity can be a pain, at times. Replace the lighter socket with two USB ports, and replace the ashtray with a 110/220/whatever(most laptops and netbooks are bisexual... errh... bi-current, anyway) outlet. That's all I need. Yes, I have a Belkin USB adapter, too. :)

  • WolfWings WolfWings on Aug 13, 2009

    Easy solution that allows the majority of the 'triversal' power adapters for laptops and other devices work without any changes: Airplane DC power plugs. It's a standard, and most kits already use an airplane DC->car DC socket adapter. It's perfectly functional for the power demands, and would reduce loose kibble nicely.

  • BuzzDog BuzzDog on Aug 13, 2009

    People keep asking what's wrong with the cigarette lighter-style port. I'll give you three answers: Reliability, bulk and ease of shorting them out. The spring-loaded tabs will often fail to keep the plug, well, plugged in; the plugs are HUGE for their purpose and tough to pack in a briefcase or in-car storage bin; and as jpcavanaugh pointed out, a finger, paperclip or other conducting object fits too easily into the outlet. But back to my original push for a power port or two between the visors: A smaller recepticle would make this possible. Can't figure out why the manufacturers or aftermarket haven't figured out that it sometimes makes more sense to plug things in overhead, instead of having a wire dangling down into the dash. I like the idea of EmPower(R) ports such as those favored by the airlines, as well as good ol' USB. Either one gives a more positive (and often more foolproof) way of connecting than a lighter plug. Or is there a possible compromise out there, in the form of a better (as in smaller and more reliably connecting) lighter plug?