At Tampa auto show, vehicles come closer to driving themselves – Tampabay.com

Posted: Friday, November 14, 2014

Tampa Bay’s auto show opens Friday with every manner of sports car, gas-sipping hybrid, zippy runaround and carbon fiber-crafted luxury vehicle among its 400 offerings of 2015 models from three dozen brands.

The show has come a long way from the first time I previewed it in 2003, when automakers pitched flip-down screens for built-in DVD movie watching as the hottest innovation around.

How quaint.

This year’s show builds on two big industry trends: Vehicles rapidly are taking the responsibility for driving away from drivers. And vehicles increasingly are turning into smartphones on wheels as technology strives to put every passenger online with their own gadgets.

At the Mercedes-Benz space at the show, the new C class cars and GLA sport utility vehicles come standard with a “collision protection assist” that uses radar to monitor and automatically adjust closing speeds with any moving vehicles around it.

“Driverless technology is closer than ever with several vehicles on the market today with driver aids which, when used simultaneously, practically drive the car for you, and they’re not just available on luxury cars, either,” says Scott Evans, associate editor of Motor Trend, which produces the Tampa auto show.

Ford has its new F-150 up on a pedestal, 700 pounds lighter because it’s now built using aluminum instead of steel. That helps the truck meet stricter federal fuel-efficiency standards.

GM’s Cadillac is pushing a “CUE” touch screen on its dashboard that can turn the car into an Internet hot spot handling up to seven passenger gadgets at once, play Pandora radio or show 3-D navigational maps. These do-everything screens are do-too-much screens for many older buyers flummoxed by the rush of modern technology. To be fair, a savvy Cadillac saleswoman at the show deciphered much of the CUE’s mystery for me in a three-minute demo.

While I may still drive a 1991 Toyota, I’m a big fan of this auto extravaganza and push each year to cover it. It’s a great way to see a lot of vehicles quickly, from the rich yellow, $190,000-plus Lamborghini Gallardo greeting showgoers as they enter the Tampa Convention Center to the $160,000 Maserati Ghibli convertible in a perfect shade of blue tucked back in one of the smaller showrooms.

Want good old American muscle cars? Drool on Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs, Chargers and Challengers.

Let’s not forget this has not been a great time for some automakers. GM repeatedly has had to issue recalls on millions of vehicles. It still faces allegations of fraud and product liability issues for not telling owners sooner about the danger of faulty ignition switches, now linked to 32 deaths.

As Honda recently widened its own recalls to nearly 10 million vehicles, Japan’s Takata Corp. on Thursday said it is the subject of a U.S. criminal investigation over potentially defective car airbags linked to five deaths.

So not all is swell in the world of autos. But this much I know: There are cool cars to be ogled at this weekend’s show in downtown Tampa. Some are available for test drives.

Need another reason to go? That gallon of gas in Tampa Bay that topped $4 back in 2008 and averaged $3.10 a year ago? It’s down to $2.80, making almost any vehicle a bit more affordable.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

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