Chicago Auto Show – Car Buyers Enamored by Consumer Electronics

February 24, 2011 |  by

Mercedes AMG SEL, Chicago Auto ShowAlan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Co. keynoted at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.  Deciding to show the  new Focus Electric there, Mulally said, “The automobile has moved into the mainstream of our integrated digital world. To be able to share the next step in the evolution of our technology at CES… Not only is it the electric car, but an electric future. All the applications that allow us to operate in our electric world will be using consumer electronics technology integrated with the car platform.”

By next year, Generation Y (the millennial generation born between 1982 and 2001) will make up 40% of the car-buying market in the US.  Many analysts say in-car technology is one of the most important attributes for them. Built-in Bluetooth and Internet connectivity in their vehicles, more human-machine interfaces (HMIs), haptic controllers… in essence, the group wants an iPhone on wheels.

Steve Foley, owner and president of Steve Foley Auto Group, Northbrook, Illinois, told me that car buyers may be impressed by quarter-mile speeds and electric batteries, but, in the end, they are often swayed by four-way lumbar supports and 20-gigabyte navigation and entertainment systems. Gadgets are now very user-friendly and appeal to a wide audience. Andrew Poliak, director of automotive business development at QNX Software Systems Co. in Ottawa says, “Today it seems cars are just one big bundle of consumer electronics.”

As I walked through McCormick Place, I saw huge GM, Chevrolet, Ford, Jeep and Toyota displays. Indeed, a connected world.  Exhibits were highly interactive… and social.  Interactive displays – four test tracks; BMW’s Build Your Own Car station; Chevrolet’s Motion sensor Volt info station; Ford Mustang Dino Experience; Mercedes Benz 3-D video screens. Toyota’s Prius “Spell the plural” contest and record your own YouTube ad; CAS on Facebook & Twitter.  The Jeep exhibit was fabulous – a test track experience that featured a 20-foot drop and man-made snow. Hmmm, no exotics this year. Perhaps Ferrari is watching  its marketing dollars.

So, what is driving the market? What do consumers want and how much are they willing to spend for it? I decided to informally talk with some product specialists and salespeople from area dealerships.  The consensus:  car buyers want it all – looks, power, fuel efficiency, safety features, navigation & entertainment systems, connectivity AND a reasonable price.

What turned on the attendees? Eight thousand consumers voted for their favorite vehicles (selected  categories):

  • Best All-New Production Vehicle: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Fastest Camaro ever offered by Chevrolet, the car is packed with performance technologies, highlighted by Magnetic Ride Control, chassis and suspension systems. Scheduled for delivery to dealerships in early 2012.
  • Best Concept Vehicle: Infiniti Essence A “Wow” looking car, Essence features environmentally sound design.  The technology and performance statement is a 592-horsepower gasoline/electric hybrid coupe. A key difference over some other hybrid systems is that both the 3.7-liter V6 and the electric motor feed their power only to the rear wheels. Essence previews a new type of electric motor, called 3D Motor, which operates in both propulsion and power regeneration modes so the battery pack is kept charged up.
  • Best Green Vehicle: Chevrolet Volt Aha, here we have a remote-charging and vehicle-control program that owners can download and run from Blackberry and Apple iPhone cell phones. Among other things, it allows the owner to pre-heat or pre-cool the vehicle before getting in. The navigation system is standard, as is a hard drive for storing digital-music files.
  • Vehicle I’d most like to have in my driveway: Chevrolet Camaro Just 11 votes ahead of the Ford Mustang, the Camaro’s safety features include ABS, traction control, antiskid system, front-side airbags, and curtain-side airbags. Rear-obstacle detection is standard on two models. Other available features – a wireless cell-phone link, USB port, satellite radio, and remote engine start.

OEMs face a big challenge: designing for the FUTURE.  Integrating the product development cycle for both the car and consumer electronics is an option. More market research? Absolutely!

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