New York — The Motor City and Silicon Valley are colliding this week at the New York auto show.
The show is a testament to the automotive industry’s convergence with the technology sector. So-called disruptors such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. weren’t at the show’s press days Wednesday and Thursday, but they were a topic of discussion as automakers unveiled their latest advancements.
“There has been a lot of talks about disruption, about these competitors who promise a new approach to what a car can be,” Renault Group and Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn said at an opening address for the show. “Much of this unease over potential disruption has resulted from the rapid emergence of new technologies and so-called mobility service.”
Ghosn spent a majority of his speech discussing the future of the industry — including self-driving cars, for which the groundwork is being laid in advanced safety and connectivity systems. He said advances are developing at a speed unfamiliar to the auto industry.
“Rather than fear the disruption, I believe our industry really has no choice but to embrace it and participate,” he said. He added that Renault-Nissan plans to release 10 models with “significant autonomous drive functionality” by 2020.
“I expect the global auto industry to see more changes in the next five years than it has in the last 20,” he said.
Ghosn’s comments are similar to those made by General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra and Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields.
Following the debut of the Lincoln Navigator Concept this week, Fields said customers are demanding new technologies. “As a carmaker that’s focused on a very consumer-centric view of the world, we want to be there for them and offering those,” he said.
Fields declined to directly comment on reports earlier this year that the automaker might team with Google: “We’ve always said in Silicon Valley, it’s a community in which we want to participate in and collaborate with.”
Audi of America President Scott Keogh told The Detroit News he believes the industry is driving on roads to two different worlds: an autonomous world in the next five or so years with small, urban vehicles driving in “well-mapped and defined city areas” — and the rest in a more traditional driving world
“It’s not going to be a light switch that says, ‘Click, I’m in piloted full-world; click, I’m not,’ ” he said. “It’s going to be in increments, as we’ve seen in the automotive industry.”
Keogh estimates 60 percent of a customer’s “daily driving world” eventually will be handled by sensors, radars and other technologies to control, steering, braking, acceleration and nearly all other aspects of driving.
The technologies are expected to continue to become more standard on vehicles. Safety features in particular will take a front seat: Federal officials and automakers recently announced a pledge for all vehicles to have automatic emergency braking by 2022.
During the unveiling of the 2017 Acura MDX, the Honda Motor Co. luxury brand announced all models of the mid-size SUV will come standard with Acura’s suite of advanced safety and driver-assistance technology that it calls “AcuraWatch.”
“These are technologies that many in the industry refer to as ‘semi-autonomous,’ ” said John Mendel, executive vice president of Honda’s U.S. operation.
Those features include automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.
But it’s not all about autonomy. There are new convenience features, electric powertrains and Internet-connected interiors.
The Navigator Concept featured large high-definition screens throughout the full-size SUV, including ones in the headrests for passengers in the back that can stream from a smartphone or let passengers play games against one another.
Tim Kuniskis, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ head of passenger car brands for North America, said games and entertainment features are a centerpiece of the all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica minivan that arrives in dealerships in April.
“It was critical,” he told The Detroit News this week. “You buy a minivan for the interior, and you’ve got to make sure you get the front seat and second and third row right… We spent a lot of time on that.”
Toyota Motor Corp. turned heads in New York with the debut of its all-new 2017 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid that has an 11.6-inch touchscreen for navigation, apps and interior controls.
Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Rebecca Lindland said people have become accustomed to “having everything in one place” because of the proliferation of smartphones, which improve at a rapid pace. Those expectations are pushing automakers to become more proactive.
“People are certainly demanding more and more from their mobility and that comes in the form of technology,” she said. “You have to do these things to keep your vehicle relevant.”