During the past several decades, the automotive portion of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was all about showcasing the latest aftermarket electronics for cars. But about five years ago, a handful of automakers started exhibiting at CES — at the same time that in-cabin technology started to become more essential to car buyers and emerged as an important selling point at dealerships. Since then, the balance of power at the show has shifted toward car companies.
CES is now almost as significant to most carmakers as the largest auto shows are, and it's become an ideal venue for vehicle brands to unveil their latest and greatest gadgets. This year's show, which kicks off January 10, has attracted more automakers and will see more major introductions than ever before.
Below is a preview of just a few of the new automotive technologies that will debut at the 2012 CES. Check the Straightline blog on our sister site, Inside Line, for daily updates from the show floor.
Smartphones, Smarter Cars
Most automakers are focused on how to leverage the Internet connectivity of smartphones to bring content and convenience features into the car. One example of this trend is the Drive Style iPhone app that Mercedes is unveiling at 2012 CES. It will be featured on 2013 models.
The app allows drivers to plug an iPhone into a vehicle and have a portion of the device's content, such as entertainment apps and navigation, appear on an in-dash display. Mercedes-Benz claims that combining the iPhone's familiar interface with the car's larger display will minimize driver distraction.
GM's smartphone integration efforts have been focused on the automaker's higher-end offerings, such as with Buick Intellilink and Cadillac CUE. At CES, Chevrolet is introducing a new in-dash system that GM created in partnership with consumer electronics giant LG, and it will debut on the division's lowest-priced cars, the Chevy Sonic and Spark.
It's called MyLink, just like the latest in-dash smartphone-integration system in the 2013 Chevy Malibu. The new head unit will feature a 7-inch color touchscreen. Unlike MyLink, however, it won't contain a CD drive. Instead, the new system will use a smartphone's apps, such as Pandora Internet radio, to access cloud-based content and navigation.
In just a few short years CES has become the place for automakers to introduce their portable-device integration platforms. Ford first introduced Sync at CES in 2007, and Kia unveiled its Uvo system at the 2010 CES.
At this year's show Kia is unveiling its next-generation Uvo2. The updated system adds a Crash Notification Assist feature that automatically dials 911 on a connected phone when an airbag deploys. Uvo2 also offers a suite of what Kia calls eServices, which are controlled through a free smartphone app. These include:
- Send2Car for transferring a destination found on Google Maps to the car's navigation system
- Park Assist that notes the car's location on a map to help guide the owner back to a parking spot
- My Car Zone to monitor a car's location, its speed and the times driven
- Vehicle Diagnostics and Car Care Web for tracking maintenance, analyzing driving habits and scheduling service
Ford is using CES to announce a series of new apps for Sync's AppLink feature. One is an NPR app that lets National Public Radio fans tune in to their favorite programs whenever they want and by voice command. Drivers can call up an NPR newscast by simply saying "Hourly News" after a voice prompt, or they can listen to popular NPR programs such as Car Talk or Fresh Air on demand.
The app also tunes in favorite NPR affiliate stations from anywhere in the country and assigns them to radio presets. The listener can pause, skip and replay programs and, before hitting the road, create custom playlists of favorite programs.
Ford is also introducing a Sync app called Roximity that provides a driver with real-time discounts that are linked to their location and are based on personal preferences. If you were passing a favorite restaurant, for example, Sync AppLink with Roximity would give you verbal alerts on specials and daily deals.
Automakers have not only invaded the aftermarket's turf at CES but also have made it more difficult to add outside electronics to modern cars. Innovative aftermarket brands, however, still provide the latest in-cabin technology for consumers who want to add it to their existing vehicles.
Pioneer is introducing several replacement car stereo head units with the company's new App Mode feature that enables streaming content from an Internet-connected iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. Pioneer is also including Bluetooth hands-free phone and wireless music streaming on 70 percent of its 2012 in-dash head unit lineup. Alpine's new CDE-HD138BT CD receiver allows car owners to add Bluetooth phone and audio capability to their vehicles and also uses a smartphone to stream Pandora radio.
Five new Kenwood navigation head units include Garmin navigation technology, with photo-realistic lane guidance and predictive traffic-trend routing. Four out of five models have built-in HD Radio and Bluetooth audio streaming, and all are compatible with the newest-generation SiriusXM satellite radio tuners.
Directed Electronics debuts its Viper SmartStart 3.0 remote engine-starting system at CES. Like previous generations, the new system lets drivers start their car using a smartphone app and heat or cool the interior. The 3.0 version adds the ability to program morning and evening commute times based on ambient temperatures. The app's SmartSchedule feature shows the current temperature at a preset time so drivers can make sure the cabin is comfy by the time they get into the car.