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Apps, autonomy and ownership: Three ways driving is changing in 2018

Jack Hollis, group vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, speaks Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

DETROIT — New SUVs and trucks are dominating this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But there’s more happening in the automotive industry than big tires and four-wheel drive. Here are three takeaways from the showroom that reveal the future of the driving experience:

Autonomous technology is accelerating 

We tend to associate autonomous driving with expensive Teslas and futuristic concept cars that grace auto-show stages but remain years away from being parked in our driveways. At this year’s show, automakers such as Honda, Toyota and Nissan showed off cars that incorporate autonomous technology into their affordable production models, showing that the era of being completely in control of your car is quickly ending.

“This year is a coming-out party for autonomous technology for production models,” said Josh Clifton, a Nissan spokesman.

GM’s latest car gives up steering wheels, pedals — and human control

At the show, Nissan revealed the 2018 Leaf, the company’s signature electric vehicle. Clifton said that more than half of the 13,000 reservations for the 2018 Leaf incorporate ProPilot technology, which allows vehicles to operate autonomously during single-lane driving on the highway.

Cadillac, Honda, Toyota, Volvo, Mercedes, Audi and BMW also showed off vehicles that incorporated autonomous technology.

“We’re highly engaged in creating a system that assist the driver and, in some cases, take over the driver altogether,” said Donny Nordlicht, a Cadillac spokesman, referring to the company’s hands-free highway driving technology, known as Super Cruise.

Now you can pay someone to wait in the DMV line for you  

The auto show is more than a chance for automakers to show off splashy cars. It also gives companies that cater to car owners a chance to pitch industry officials. Among them is DropCar, a company that lets car owners outsource everything that makes owning a car difficult.

DropCar launched in New York City in 2015 and operates like an all-inclusive valet service with your personal vehicle. In addition to having its valets pick you up in your own car, the company handles parking, oil changes, state inspections, windshield wiper replacement, repairs and gas. They’ll even stand in line for you at the DMV. All you have to do is drive, according to Erik Wall, a DropCar spokesman.

“People in Manhattan are extremely busy and aggressively value their time,” Wall said. “We can make owning a car bearable in a pretty terrible market to own a car.”

The company has about 1,400 subscribers, and prices range from $379 per month to $499 per month.

GM is making its own apps 

People have become accustomed to taking their content with them wherever they go — whether it’s their social media, music, podcasts or access to news — and carmakers have taken notice. While many companies allow smartphones to interface with their cars, allowing you to stream your music from your phone to your car, for example, but General Motors, one of the largest U.S. automakers, has taken it a step further.

They’ve begun pairing directly with companies such Spotify, the Weather Channel, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Fox Sports, People Magazine and The Washington Post to build versions of their apps that are “curated for the car,” according to Stefan Cross, a GM spokesman. The challenge, Cross said, is building functional apps for the infotainment system that, ironically enough, don’t demand your attention.

“We’ve made a computer screen that we don’t want people to look at,” Cross said, noting that the company doesn’t want to take a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds. “We want this to be something you can do while you’re driving 80 miles per hour on the highway.”

Instead of reading the news on the app, drivers hear a publication’s most popular news podcast via the app, for example.

“Our developers and our engineering team is having conversations with different app companies and tech company providers, and we bring them into the Renaissance Center here in Detroit and we help them develop new apps for the vehicles,” Cross said.


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