Emerging Tech

Hot Trends at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show

At this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the auto industry made gestures toward smarter navigation and entertainment systems, as well as streamlining the SUV category.

NAIAS and the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas are scheduled around the same time each year, and the connection between the two shows is growing stronger. Many automotive manufacturers and electronics makers exhibit at CES, then rush to Detroit to show their new models.

“At least the two shows came back-to-back, and not overlapping in the same week as they did last year,” Mark Boyadjis, senior analyst at IHS Automotive told TechNewsWorld. “At CES, there were technology announcements from automakers; and in Detroit it was the autos that the technologies are used in.”

The Human Interface Element

CES helped lead in to NAIAS this year, with technology acting as the driving force of the auto show.

“The lion’s share of the announcements had more interesting, more newsworthy content from a technology side,” said Boyadjis.

Advancements in the human-machine interface took center stage during the two press days at NAIAS this year. Several manufacturers including Hyundai, Infiniti and Lexus discussed new and improved interfaces for the next models to be released.

Nissan’s Infiniti Q50 serves as the car to introduce a twin-display technology, Infiniti In-Touch. The twin display combines the navigation, environmental controls and entertainment into a touchscreen and a display screen.

“They’ve got this center display for interacting with the apps, the touchscreen; and above that you can see the apps, the navigation, the phone and the connectivity. I think that’s a really interesting HMI debut,” said Boyadjis. “That’s the start of a brand-new platform that’s going to get a lot more detail about it over the next few months”

Hyundai showed its own advancements in the field with the Hyundai HCD concept car. The model on the show floor demonstrated a prototype infotainment system.

“It had maybe one button. The rest was gesture control, eye tracking,” said Boyadjis. “Not only is the technology on the horizon for all auto makers, but Hyundai is being very active in developing it.”

Features such as gesture-based controls and eye tracking help keep driver attention on the road. Gesture-based controls are becoming available in the home, and now making their way to the car.

“It’s being pushed in the consumer electronics world, I think we’ll see it potentially in automotive because there’s applications,” said Boyadjis.

Gesture controls and similar technologies are one direction auto manufacturers are taking to curb distracted driving.

“There is a subtle balancing act right now,” Boyadjis said. “That balancing act is something no auto maker has come up with, nor will they in the next few years.”

The two avenues auto makers are pursuing to address distracted driving are autonomy and user-interface design.

“It’s hard to say which way it will go. If you have one, you don’t need the other,” said Boyadjis. “Finding that interim, or happy medium, might be difficult for a while. Things like gesture recognition, head-up displays, active parking assist, the arrays of sensors; that will persist as an axiom to the future.”

A Sirius Shift

While it’s very common for new cars to come with a Sirius satellite radio, and often with a one-year subscription, Lexus made an announcement at NAIAS that is a step away from reliance of the satellite for data such as traffic and weather. Lexus announced that its IS model will come with a lifetime subscription to a traffic and weather data feed through the HD Radio.

“There’s no longer a fee for this, traffic is now standard, weather is now standard, free for the life of the car,” said Boyadjis.

She Shape of Cars to Come

The automobile itself is going through some transition. After a few years of focusing on safety and reliability, the attention is now back on the consumer. General Motors, a Detroit fixture, demonstrated that with a number of 2014 models on show at NAIAS.

“I think there’s probably two clear directions. One of them being that GM has really re-found its religion in regards to passionate car design. The cost of entry to this industry is durability and reliability. If you don’t have that, you’re going to be sent packing. Now it becomes a game of emotional appeal as well,” James Bell, head of consumer affairs at General Motors, told TechNewsWorld.

The next Cadillac ELR will take a page from the Chevy Volt, borrowing its electric propulsion engine.

“If the propulsion story wasn’t enough, we’ve wrapped it in a beautiful concept car interior. The ELR, it’s going to be shiny, big wheels, and looking mean. And not using a drop of gasoline,” said Bell.

SUVs and Vehicles Get Smaller

“Small is going to be the new cool,” said Bell about the new urban sport-utility vehicles.

Honda came out at NAIAS with a new urban SUV, a concept vehicle. The car is “nimble to ride,” Bell said. For the time being this is “by no means the car Americans want to ride, but where things are going.”

Reaction to Honda’s concept car may be slightly warmer than the one GM received when it introduced the Buick Encore crossover at last year’s NAIAS. “People scratched their heads,” said Bell.

It does speak to the needs of the U.S., and the rest of the world. Smaller cars will serve as utility when an SUV or truck is bigger than required for the job.

“People will start to become more rational with their car choice,” Bell said.

Hybrids See Reduced Headlines

If it looks like momentum for hybrids and electric cars is slowing down, it might just be because it’s becoming more common.

“There’s so much air spent on whether electric cars are succeeding,” Bell said. “This analysis is really cutting it short. Electrification in transportation is the way the future has to be. The surprise is that you’re seeing more and more electrification being introduced.”

The trend is becoming part of the everyday, and therefore fading into the background of news streams.

“It isn’t newsworthy, it is really reaffirming,” said Bell.

Consumers can attend the public show, which will run from Saturday through Jan. 27.

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