Predicting the future can be a precarious proposition.

But it’s a living – at least it is for Mike Gauthier.

Gauthier is director-Corporate Technology North America for Siemens VDO Automotive. That’s his title, anyway. His job is to act as a futurist, to take the pulse of technology development worldwide and predict how it ultimately will impact the auto industry.

He keeps tabs on everything from organic semiconductors to nano technology and what auto makers think about it. The theory is that Siemens VDO will be better positioned to meet future technology demands if it correctly reads the automotive tea leaves.

Here’s some of what Gauthier’s crystal ball reveals:

  • Gasoline prices eventually will reach $4 per gallon in the U.S. That will drive ever more stringent fuel economy regulations and spur the movement toward fuel cell vehicles, which will begin to appear in significant numbers in 2015.
  • The shift first to gasoline/electric hybrid vehicles and then to fuel cells will help reverse the decades-long trend toward more powerful gasoline engines. Gauthier says output overall has increased 63.7% in the average engine since the 1980s to reach 160 hp. That will decline to 125 hp by 2020.
  • Traffic congestion will worsen as U.S. drivers continue to log more miles and environmentalists block construction of new roads. “Cars on the road will increase by 3 million by 2020, but roads – lane miles – will grow only 4%,” Gauthier says. “There will be huge congestion issues.”

Look for regulated road use as a result. Drivers will pay for particular time slots to drive to work along I-75, for example. And cars and trucks will feature electronic systems such as crash-avoidance devices that help take over the driving to increase throughput on existing roadways.

  • Vehicles will continue to last longer, going from a 9-year life expectancy now to 14 years by 2020. That will lead owners to bring their cars and trucks back to dealers for software upgrades or to add the latest gizmos.
  • Seats will massage backs and keep occupants warm in the winter, cool in the summer. Windshields will be resistant to rain, snow and frost.
  • All controls will be voice activated, and the car will monitor the driver’s pulse and alert medical support if needed. It even automatically may adjust radio volume and select automatic transmission shift points to suit the driver’s mood.
  • Safety technology will proliferate. Cars will talk to each other and their environment to protect occupants and pedestrians. Night vision systems will be widely available and “dirt cheap.” Adaptive headlights that follow the path of the car – just now bowing on some luxury models – will proliferate. Tires will automatically maintain air pressure, and sign- and lane-recognition technology will keep cars on the road where they belong.

In 2020, accidents “won’t be considered inevitable,” Gauthier says. “Forget about airbags and other safety systems we have now that react after an accident occurs. Cars will simply avoid accidents.”

Get ready for the brave new world.