By Ian Bush
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The holiday weekend brought big crowds to the Philadelphia Auto Show, which continues through Sunday. At the Pennsylvania Convention Center, automakers are showing off new features they hope will win over tech-savvy shoppers.
It’s a tough balance, making a connected car that still keeps those inside (and out) safe.
“Young consumers are expecting this in these vehicles, and it’s a point of decision for them when they put their good dollars down to buy their next vehicle or their first vehicle,” says Kevin Mazzucola, who heads the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia.
He says unlike other features, ‘infotainment’ tech is showing up in entry-level models right alongside luxury cars.
“A lot of the technology, connectivity, and safety features used to come from the top down — meaning that the higher-level vehicles or the more expensive vehicles in the portfolio — and then it would trickle down into the lower level of the models that they provide,” Mazzucola explains. “It’s not that way anymore.”
I sat in the cockpit of a 2014 Chevy Impala to check out the MyLink system, GM’s connected radio (called IntelliLink in GMC and Buick and CUE within the Cadillac marquee).
“It’s going to work very similar to an iPad where you have swiping and pinching features” says Ara Eckel, lead connected consumer specialist with GM. “If you’re driving — when the screen can become a distraction — it has a very conversational voice recognition system.”
Eckel says there are multiple USB ports in the vehicles that accept your smartphone. But his favorite emerged with the touch of a dashboard button which caused the MyLink touchscreen to rise.
“Storing the phone behind the screen keeps me focused as a driver,” he says. “When it’s there, I’m no longer tempted to look at things like text messages or emails. We want to get back to safety.”
MyLink has apps like Pandora and Stitcher for listening to music and other audio and Eckel says developers are coming up with more apps that can be downloaded to the system in the future.
In some Honda (HondaLink) and Subaru (Starlink) models, the Aha Internet radio by Harman turns your Facebook and Twitter feeds to audio, and delivers location-based travel and restaurant recommendations right to your dash. Lexus touts its in-dash Enform entertainment system, which supports OpenTable, Yelp, and Bing.
The Nissan Altima will read aloud your latest texts.
“And you’re able to tell the car to respond to a text with predetermined messages, or you can customize up to three messages,” explains Nissan product specialist Steve Roman. “There’s also the NASA-inspired zero gravity seats to alleviate those pressure points when you’re driving long distances.”
For carmakers, meeting safety standards alongside customer expectations for connectivity means walking a fine line.
“They spend more time in their vehicle than they ever have before, and they want that connectivity as they see in their bedrooms, living rooms, and wherever else they are,” Mazzucola says. “It’s vital for these manufacturers to develop intuitive software in these vehicles because consumers are judging the quality in that arena. They certainly look at safety and how long these vehicles last. It’s a big investment for consumers, and it’s something the manufacturers are very dedicated to.”