High-Tech Autos Center Stage at Las Vegas Electronics Show

This year’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas—the largest in its 44-year history, with 1.861 million net square feet of exhibit space—features a veritable feast for tech lovers, from ultra-thin TV sets to touchscreen game consoles.

But by far the coolest gadgets come courtesy of the six auto companies exhibiting at the show – Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Chrysler, Kia, Audi, and Mercedes.

Traditionally, car sales have been driven by safety, speed and performance, but today’s consumers are looking for novel electronics, demanding that their cars provide the same connectivity and entertainment value as their iPhones.

Consumer electronics for vehicles are not a mere accessory but a lifestyle revolution, argued Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars, in his keynote speech. “The car is a personal declaration of independence,” he stated.

And he’s not alone. CEA industry forecasts factory-installed vehicle technologies will increase by 16 percent, to nearly $7 billion in 2012.

Touchscreens, software, apps and social media are all big themes for the auto exhibitors, dashboard system capabilities run the gamut from booking you tickets to the opera, to finding places to eat, to giving verbal alerts on store deals as you drive past. Through a Google app, it’s now possible to Google Map a location on your home computer and download it straight to your car.

Other notable tech at the show are Samsung Electronics Co. and LG Electronics Inc. organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) TV sets. OLEDs—used in some smartphones—give a much sharper color. Screens are super-thin too. The LG set is only 4 millimeters thick.

Ultrabook laptops (think Apple’s Macbook Air) are a big hit. Hewlett-Packard Co. and Intel Corp. are both displaying some cool Net-Field Communication (NFC) technology which allows electronics to “talk to” one another. Laptops of the not-so-distant future may be able to read electronic credit cards when we make online purchases or exchange information with our smartphone by simply tapping the phone against the laptop.

John Donahoe, president and CEO of eBay, who spoke at the show, believes that the intersection of technology and retail is having a profound impact on consumers’ shopping experience. Over the next three years, he predicts, “shopping and paying” will see more profound change then what we’ve seen over the past 10-15 years.

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