Detroit Auto Show Wrap-Up – PC Magazine
DETROIT—Connected cars are no longer a rich person’s game. As the 2014 North American International Auto Show opens to the public here on Saturday, it’s becoming clear that automakers are finally syncing up with the idea that consumers expect their devices and cars to work together, and not be five years or more out of date—not just on luxury cars, but on reasonably priced mainstream vehicles as well.
This was a pretty fair issue, after all. Automakers typically redesign their cars every four to six years, depending on the model, and all of the infotainment and other in-car and safety technology has to be done up front, beforehand. It’s not just about software updates, either; as an Acura executive told me at the Detroit Auto Show, you also have to design the hardware and parts that even run the software and support its services in the first place.
Once that hardware is installed, you also can’t just do over-the-air software updates the way you can on a cell phone, or install a new disc from a PC. The car is released from the factory in tandem with safety regulations, reliability, and ease of use paramount. You can’t have a software update that bricks the car’s iPod connectivity, or (worse) freezes up the entire infotainment system while you drive down the highway at 75 miles per hour.
Automakers have realized all of this, though, and are beginning to design their cars in a more modular and upgradable fashion. They’re also adding advanced, adaptive safety features that could very well begin to lessen the number of accidents, injuries, and deaths on American roads each year. In a sea of $50K, $100K, and even more expensive cars, I’m still most impressed by the $20,000 2015 Honda Fit EX, which lets you tether your smartphone for navigation on the in-dash 7-inch capacitive touch screen for just $60, and which features a camera-based lane assistance system more typically found on luxury cars.
Fuel Economy and a Big Surprise
Other themes: Fuel economy remains a big one, thanks to rising Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. But this time around, in addition to the usual hybrid, clean diesel, and electric drivetrains, we can pair that theme with advanced gearboxes and lighter weight materials, since better fuel economy is almost impossible without weight reductions. Ford’s F-150 is the biggest gamble; the automaker claims to have reduced weight by 700 pounds by utilizing much more aluminum than before, while preserving the truck’s perennial utility, cargo capacity, safety, and all-around toughness.
There was still one theme that really surprised me, though—more horsepower. Even in an age of alternative fuels, electric cars, and increasing economy standards, there’s still room for a massive segment of high-performance vehicles and large-scale crossover SUVs. That’s actually a pretty healthy thing—sports cars and specialty coupes tend to sell in much smaller numbers than sedans and small SUVs, and many families have already downsized, or are planning to downsize, from gas-guzzling larger SUVs. So it’s not like the presence of these models will necessarily mean the public doesn’t care about fuel economy.
But for fans who grew up idolizing performance cars, there were dozens on display, including the new Mustang GT, Corvette Stingray Z06, the Camaro SS, the Subaru WRX STi, a host of forward-looking concept cars, and a bevy of upgrade packages and anniversary editions for Mopar fans on the Chrysler and Dodge side.
For those that can afford one, or at least afford a second, less practical car to compliment the family’s main vehicle, the burgeoning high performance and muscle car scene shows a healthy optimism that the car industry is alive, well, and even thriving again. And to this car enthusiast, that’s a pretty great thing.