Chicago Auto Show stars clean diesel, safety-alert seats, plug-ins
BY SANDRA GUY Business Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org February 7, 2013 3:36PM
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Updated: March 9, 2013 6:16AM
Diesel-powered vehicles without stinky emissions and cars so intelligent they fall just short of driverless will offer a glimpse of a radically changing future at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show.
The souped-up sports cars, muscular pickup trucks and tricked-out SUVs will still take their turns spinning around the stages to blasting music and rotating spotlights at the 105th show. Chicago gets a first look at the 2014 Tundra, Toyota’s bulked up full-size pickup, for example.
But automakers are boasting less about the big vehicles this year and more about how drivers will get more ride for their dollar in fuel efficiency and enjoy new innovations.
Media will get a sneak peek at a driverless car Friday during a panel discussion on the topic, but the car won’t be made public on the show floor, said Brad Jackson, spokesman for Continental Automotive, an auto-parts supplier in Auburn Hills, Mich., that is testing such a vehicle.
“We foresee a driver-assisted vehicle at low speeds in the next three to five years and ultimately a high-speed, autonomous vehicle by 2025 that is available to the public,” Jackson said.
General Motors is showing off the 2014 Cadillac XTS, SRX and ATS luxury sedans, whose features and technologies are expected to one day lead to a driverless car. The advances include brake assist, which helps stop a car faster to help stop a crash; side-blind zone alert that flashes symbols in the side mirrors when the car senses other vehicles in the blind spot, and safety-alert seat, which shakes the driver’s seat or rings a chime when the vehicle veers off path.
GM also is debuting the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, a clean turbo diesel compact sedan that has a 2-liter diesel engine and achieves an estimated 42 miles per gallon highway performance.
Diesel-fueled cars are roaring into the spotlight now, and some experts think the timing is right.
Though diesel fuel costs 5 to 20 percent more per gallon than gasoline, diesel-powered vehicles are about 35 percent more efficient. Clean-energy laws require diesel to be an ultra-low sulfur fuel that no longer belches the black fumes of 40 years ago.
“The Chevy Cruze is probably the highest-volume-selling car — it’s a mainstream and entry-level product — that any automaker has tried to sell as a diesel in decades,” said Tom Appel, publisher of Consumer Guide Automotive, an auto-review webzine based in Lincolnwood.
“Diesels today are quicker and quieter [than long-ago diesels] and can be fun to drive,” Appel said.
He believes diesels’ 35-percent greater mileage efficiency “can make for a compelling case” compared with conventional vehicles now that gasoline prices have stabilized in the $3.50 to $4-a-gallon range.
Chrysler’s diesel brag is its 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV, whose diesel option has emerged after Fiat started steering the automaker’s power train strategy.
Beyond diesel, hybrids are a big presence at this year’s show. Ford is boasting a record number of hybrids, including the Fusion Energi that hits local auto dealers’ showrooms in the next few weeks at a starting price of $38,700. It’s being presented at the show, too.
Hybrids have batteries that are charged by the engine running and by regenerative braking, and a gas-powered internal combustion engine kicks in to generate electricity after a certain number of miles. Some hybrids are plug-ins that can be recharged — at home or at a station.
Finally, cars’ ability to act like smart phones and computers is soaring to new heights.
Ford Motor Co.’s voice-activated apps let drivers find deals at nearby stores and restaurants, update friends and family on their location, and listen to their favorite music, news, audiobooks, radio stations and social feeds. Ford’s SYNC connectivity system allows drivers to get 911 help, traffic reports and turn-by-turn directions.
The intelligence helps drivers stay safe. Ford, Toyota and Honda use cameras to notify drivers when the car is going off track.
Appel, of the Consumer Guide, said drivers with growing commutes demand instant communication and connectivity.
“Right now, it’s uncertain whether people want to download their phonebooks into their cars,” he said. “It’s an open-ended question whether people want to use their smart phones and wireless devices through the car, or have the car be the phone.”
Show enthusiasts can download the Chicago Auto Show’s first mobile app (through the App Store or Google Play) to obtain videos, image galleries, a schedule of events, detailed map of manufacturer exhibits on the show floor, interactive videos, image galleries, aggregated social media feeds with real-time updates and a camera icon and filter to upload and share photos.