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Carmakers Count on Customers’ Desire to Stay Connected

  • George Putic

The annual Washington Auto Show opened its doors to the general public Tuesday, after a three-day delay caused by a snowstorm that hit the U.S. East Coast. More than 30 world-class auto makers exhibited their latest models, placing special emphasis on connectivity.

Coming on the heels of the larger shows in Los Angeles and Detroit, the Washington Auto Show has carved out a niche as the one that emphasizes new technologies, especially those that cause less damage to the environment.

But with falling oil prices, the promotion of thriftier hybrid or all-electric vehicles was somewhat muted, shifting the auto show's focus to connectivity and automatization.

Automotive engineering professor, Zoran Filipi, says the technology in this Mercedes S-class model shows that we are at the dawn of cars that almost drive themselves.

“It has lane-keeping ability, it has advanced radar-based system to keep the vehicle’s speed also in sync with other vehicles and this can completely alleviate your effort, driving effort, in stop-and-go situations too, and finally the collision avoidance," said Filipi.

Very soon we will see these technologies trickling-down to more affordable models as car makers work to develop fully autonomous-driving cars.

In the meantime, says Filipi, fuel efficiency has improved 20 percent over the last 10 years.

“This has mostly been achieved with advanced engine technologies – direct injection, turbo-charging, coupled to very modern transmissions, eight, nine, ten speeds that keep the engine running in the best possible region," he said.

Almost all new models have built-in display screens that connect the vehicle to the driver’s smartphone and the Internet, helping in navigation, taking voice commands, and sending and receiving messages.

“Therefore you can use all the applications you are used to, everything that is tailored to your needs in your car and it’s very seamless," said Filipi.

Larger manufacturers, such as Toyota, say their all-electric fuel-cell cars are ready for the market and the only obstacle is the lack of charging stations.

Others promote their hybrid gas-electric models, saying that the number of charging stations is constantly rising while the price of home chargers is dropping.

South Korean carmaker Hyundai even offers a lifetime warranty for the battery in its top-of-the-line model, hoping to make the hybrid car more attractive to customers.