Showcasing technology like Ford's SYNC, automakers play... Showcasing technology like Ford's SYNC, automakers played a big role at CES 2011 (Ford).
Car companies were the stars of this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with Audi, GM and Ford grabbing the show's vital "wow" factor with their displays of gadgets, apps, and sophisticated electronic wizardry.

Megan Pollock, a CES spokeswoman, said this is "absolutely the first year" automakers have exhibited at the show in such a major way. "Automakers have always had a presence at our show but in terms of aftermarket accessories. Now, they are putting electronics in their cars. Before they had tape-decks, now they have satellite radio and social media apps."

It didn't used to be this way. Consumers traditionally bought cars because of what was under the hood, how many kids could fit in the back, or the number of bags of golf clubs in the trunk. Now, it's all about how much electronic gadgetary comes with your car.

"Consumers want a fast car, with this interior and this color, but also now they want the electronics wherever they go, whether they're on the run or in their cars. This is a trend we'd like to see continue," said Pollack.

Ford unveiled its MyFord mobile app at CES alongside a new electric version of its Focus compact. The smartphone program delivers the status of the car's charging to a remote user, alongside the ability to remotely start the car's engine and heating or AC systems, or lock its doors. A user can also program the car to charge at night, or when electricity is cheapest.

The app also allows users to post driving milestones to Facebook or Twitter and provides feedback on driving ability. It can also be used to locate a car in a parking garage or grocery store lot by way of GPS. Ford has stressed its goal of "constant connectivity" between a car and driver.

Jim Buczkowski, a Henry Ford Technical fellow and director of the automaker's Electrical and Electronic Systems Research & Advanced Engineering, told AOL: "It's very important for us to use CES to show how our vehicles are different. Our focus is on driver experience more than ever before and that includes a digital experience, how the car is working in its environment, its eco-system. Today's connectivity can provide a much better experience for consumers."

"People want to be connected all the time to their friends and followers and we're trying to find ways to do this in a safe, appropriate, non-distracting way, like using voice recognition. Sync can read your Twitter feed back to you like a radio program," said Buczkowski.

Ford has also upgraded its Sync voice recognition system to recognize more than 10,000 commands, and also has integrated social-media products into its 2011 Fiesta, harnessing the power of Facebook, Twitter and location-based services in a bid to capture a younger, tech-savvy buyer that fits the profile of the Fiesta brand.

GM showcased its futuristic EN-V green car that is based on research done with Segway, the mobile transport company. While the vehicle is just a concept right now, GM sees serious potential in the car's ability to connect with other GM models on the road. By analysing road and traffic data and effectively "social networking" between vehicles, GM hopes that its drivers will be able to avoid creating traffic jams. GM predicts that the technology will ultimately allow the car to drive itself.

Audi, meanwhile, showcased an array of gadgets at CES and its booth proved a hit with showgoers, who took to Twitter to comment on the high-tech goodies on offer. Audi even employed "I Robot" actor James Cromwell to promote its e-tron Spyder concept, a plug-in electric hybrid.

The German carmaker promoted its innovative "head-up display" dash that puts a jet pilot's instrument panel to shame. Data such as the vehicle's direction and speed are displayed on the windshield so a driver does not have to take their eyes off the road to read it. It also uses GPS to show the speed limit on a particular section of road, which can also be used for satellite navigation.

"Are we talking about science fiction or science fact?" Audi chairman Rupert Stadler asked the large audience, a good portion of the show's more than 140,000 attendees this year.

After this year's CES, it looks like using consumer electronics as a means to sell cars has indeed become science fact.

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