DETROIT—After back-to-back trips to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and the Detroit Auto Show, I've put together a pretty good picture of where the auto industry is headed in 2013.
The big news at CES was cars bristling with electronics to both allow them to drive themselves and to do just about anything you could possibly want with infotainment, including access the cloud. CES isn't an auto show, but it may as well be these days — Lexus, Ford, Audi and many more were there.
The cars unveiled in Detroit last week were also app-heavy, but there was another message as well. In the wake of so-so sales for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the carmakers were emphasizing mainstream cars and trucks again — but with up-front green characteristics. Yes, Ford sells a lot of F-150 trucks (it's the most popular vehicle in America), but at its press conference the company emphasized that huge numbers of people are buying them with very clean EcoBoost engines.
I sat in on the introductions of both the return of the Corvette Stingray and the new Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, and both are macho as can be, with 450 and 470 horsepower, respectively. But the 'Vette has lightweight construction and cylinder de-activation (turning eight cylinders into four). Hit the "eco" mode and you're driving the most fuel-efficient Corvette, ever.
The SRT has an "eco" button too, which optimizes transmission shifting and also uses cylinder deactivation. Of course, there's also a "launch" button to maximize zero-to-60 times, and my guess is that the latter will get more use from this car's target audience.
It was interesting that two significant new models didn't actually get press introductions. Nissan accessed the usual thundering music to debut its Resonance Concept, a crossover SUV intended to host a new hybrid drivetrain. But just across the platform was the new, stripped-down Nissan Leaf electric car, designed to sell for $28,800 (a $6,000 cut). A shout-out from the stage could have helped Nissan's new marketing effort to revitalize relatively stagnant Leaf sales.
Some other things I saw and liked included the Current Motor electric scooter, which uploads data about its performance to the cloud (via a Dell partnership), and Via Motors' partnerships with Verizon and PG&E on plug-in hybrid fleet vehicles. Electric vehicles may not be selling in huge numbers to you and me, but they're tailor made to save money for corporate fleet buyers.