Notes From the Detroit Auto Show: Connectivity is King

1/17/12Follow @XconomyDET

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for urban markets with its Alpha City car-sharing program, as well as a European “park in my driveway” plan, where people can use smart phones to search for rentable parking spaces in some of Europe’s most congested cities.

Bologna said it’s been a pleasant surprise to see those offering the parking spaces look at the program not only as a money-making opportunity, but also a civic duty. BMW is currently looking at expanding the program to the United States.

General Motors is meanwhile implementing lessons it learned from the OnStar system—consumers prefer technology that is intuitive, for example—into its new infotainment platforms, according to Alan Taub, vice-president of global research and development.

“The goal is, how do we seamlessly connect third-party devices and use them intuitively and safely?” Taub said in a phone interview. He was on a break at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where the company had just unveiled the new Cadillac CUE, a Linux-based infortainment system. (CUE stands for Cadillac User Experience.) “Or, even better, how can a connected vehicle enhance safety?”

Taub says that automobile companies have spent the past 20 to 30 years learning how to protect passengers from crashes, and now they’re entering an era of preventing the crash in the first place. Some GM cars are already equipped with adaptive cruise control, in which a vehicle will automatically adjust its speed according to the vehicle in front of it, but Taub explained that vehicle technology is advancing so rapidly that we’re not far from the days when cars will be able to communicate with one another on the road to prevent crashes.

“Vehicle to vehicle [technology] must be a cooperative event with other [automakers], and you’ll see that start to roll out mid-decade,” he said. “When I have vehicles capable of not crashing, that’s the beginning of an era where vehicles can drive themselves. The technology for that will also start converging by mid-decade.”

The bottom line, Taub said, is that GM, like most other car companies, is in the midst of reinventing almost every part of the vehicle, with the goal being fully electric, small, light-weight, connected cars that are able to negotiate the “mega cities” of the future.

“That reinvention requires technology and innovation,” Taub said. “We’re getting some of our best ideas from suppliers and non-conventional players, which is one reason we’re at CES. We need to make sure we make vehicles that are sustainable, as well as retain the love affair people have with personal mobility.”

Judging by the vehicles showcased at this year’s auto show, the industry is well on its way.

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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