Notes From the Detroit Auto Show: Connectivity is King

1/17/12Follow @XconomyDET

Though the North American International Auto Show just opened to the public Saturday, I was able to preview it last week with other reporters from around the world. Unlike the past few years, which were dominated by austerity and green tech, the feeling I got this year is that the car companies are seeking to reignite our love affair with automobiles through sleek designs and endless connectivity features. Essentially, they want to make it fun to drive again.

According to research data from Polk, the average age of U.S. vehicles is a record 10.8 years, which means there’s huge pent-up demand. But in this shaky economy, consumers still expect their cars to justify their price tags by saving them money at the gas pumps; playing the songs off their iPods; and telling them when they’re about to back into a shopping cart, which is forcing auto manufacturers to become ever more innovative and cost-conscious. At the same time, manufacturers are feverishly trying to improve efficiency through advances in engine and materials technology in order to comply with the looming 2025 emissions-standard deadline. So what are automakers doing to capture the hearts of consumers?

As hybrid cars whizzed almost soundlessly around the adjacent test track in the basement of the Cobo Center, the Wall Street Journal hosted a panel discussion last week about the future of the business as it pertains to the environment, urbanization, and mobility.

The challenge that exists, agreed speakers Jim Farley, Ford’s group vice-president of global marketing, sales, and service, and Tom Bologna, BMW’s vice-president of engineering, is to get consumers to like and pay for the features that will be necessary to meet tough government standards.

“To get people to accept new technology, you need to give them a heads up so they can absorb it,” Bologna said. “People don’t like surprises.”

Bologna was discussing BMW’s Start Stop engine technology, which has been used very successfully in Europe among drivers with manual transmissions. BMW is … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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