An expected, 700,000 visitors at this year's North American International Auto Show, Jan. 11-24, will see a transformed auto industry focusing on new technologies. The Detroit auto show has historically been the event where automakers trumpet torque and horsepower, but this year car companies are engaged in a fierce battle over styling and integrated technology.
The 700 new vehicles on display at the show range from electric cars to hydrogen fuel cells to plug-in hybrids to traditional gas engines. There are many ways a vehicle's engine can run these days and even more options for customers on styling and features.
Whether it's multimedia interfaces, such as in the new Audi A8, which connects a driver's iPod and Google map directions seamlessly, or plans to modify OnStar technology for the Chevy Volt so that users' smartphones will control some vehicles' functions, automakers are using new launches and concept cars to show they have vehicles that make people's lives easier.
This year's show comes after a year when U.S. auto sales reached their lowest level in nearly three decades. The bankruptcies of two of Detroit's Big Three (Chrysler and General Motors), recalls and huge losses at Toyota sent a shockwave through the industry in 2009. Hoping to attact customers whose perceptions of auto brands may have changed, car companies are using technology innovations to reposition their brand.
"I think what we'll see in 2010 and what is crucial for the car companies is to really build their brands through product," Edmunds.com senior analyst Stephen Berkov told ABC News. "What's happened is the playing field has been leveled by a combination of the economic downtown, increase of gas prices before the economy tanked, lots of new hybrid technology -- and what it means is the whole hierarchy of brands is being reconsidered by the consumers."
When the show opens to the media on Monday, Ford Motor Co. will show off its intuitive MyFord technology, which was a big hit at the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas. The technology takes the vehicle dashboard and turns it into a sort of all-purpose technology hub through Ford Sync, Ford's partnership with Microsoft.
The invention is an interface personalization computer in which drivers can use a voice recognition system that controls their radios, MP3 player, CD player and navigation device. If that's not enough, users will be able to get their text messages while driving through an audio system that will narrate the texts. And Ford also has plans to add Wi-Fi and Twitter to its MyTouch cars.
Ford says customers will embrace MyFord and Sync because it integrates all the technologies that are essential to the everyday person.
"As we began developing MyFord's capability, we saw this groundswell of new technology, new functionality and incredible capability opening up to consumers," Mark Fields, Ford's president of The Americas said in a statement. "It was readily apparent that unless we devised an intuitive interface to help drivers manage these capabilities, they could detract -- and possibly distract -- from the driving experience."