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Automakers show off smart cars at Consumer Electronics Show

Ford CEO, Mark Fields. (PIX Courtesy)

By Chris Morris

LAS VEGAS — When Ford CEO Mark Fields first attended the Consumer Electronics Show a decade ago, cars weren’t exactly a technological showcase.

But in his keynote on Tuesday, Fields worked to convince the crowd that the century-old automaker is no longer just about cars and trucks — but a tech leader.

While Ford won’t be the first to market with a driverless car, he said the company is studying everything from car-swapping programs to personalized insurance quotes to an app for finding a parking space.

Ford is just one of 10 automakers on hand at CES to showcase all their automotive bells and whistles.

Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang set the bar for the importance of automotive technology Sunday night, saying that in the near future “there will be more computing power inside your car than in any device you have today.”

That means tomorrow’s “smart cars” and trucks will not only have to handle well and get good mileage, they’ll have to keep people entertained.

Buyers are willing to pay more for that. A recent Harris poll found that consumers are willing to spend US$ 1,499 on entertainment and safety features in their car.

And a survey from consulting firm Accenture found that in-vehicle technology was the top selling point for 39 percent of potential buyers. Only 14 percent put horsepower and handling at the top of their list.

That’s because people are spending more and more time in their cars. And with mobile entertainment like Pandora and Spotify so prevalent, consumers are used to having that technology at their fingertips at all times.

“Consumer electronics are quickly becoming a spectacle in the automotive industry,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for AutoTrader, in a statement Monday. “Consumers are spending more time and money on car technology and they are particular about what they’re buying.”

Sales of factory-installed vehicle technologies hit $11 billion last year, an increase of nearly 20 percent, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Even in the cash-rich auto industry, that’s not an insignificant amount.

Already competitors are muscling in on the space. GM’s OnStar has added a service where a human assistant can help with shopping and hotel reservations.

Nvidia showed off a chip that can help with assisted (and possibly fully automated) driving.

And Chrysler unveiled a feature where your car would send its exact location to your smartphone, ensuring you never have to wander aimlessly in a parking garage again. (New York Post)

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