It's auto show time again as The New York International Auto Show gets underway this week. What grabs our attention usually is the hot new designs, especially of luxury brands like BMW, Porsche and Audi. But according to some new research, the thing that carries the most weight with the public these days is technology.

According to Appinions, a New York-based influence marketing firm that measures influence, Ford is the No. 1 brand driving technology conversations on the Internet, owing principally to its launch of high-fuel economy models like Ford C-Max and Ford Fusion Hybrid, as well as its Ford Sync system for integrating a smartphone with its cars. The No. 2 brand is Toyota, followed by Audi and Google. The Internet search company ranks so high - -well above other auto brands like Honda, BMW and Volkswagen -- because of its ongoing testing of the automated cars, aka driverless cars.

"With this study, we want to share unique insights around these two dynamic industries - auto and tech – and evaluate what topics, brands and people are shaping these conversations," said Larry Levy, co-founder and CEO of Appinions. "It's fascinating to see the different technology companies that have prominent voices amongst the auto heavy-hitters, and how the combination of auto with a strong tech partner can boost a brand's overall influence at this time in the industry when tech top of mind."

See the whole report here

How much "influence" is wielded by brands or people can be a vague science, but Appinions has a method that makes its measurements relevant. The firm extracts opinions from more than six million sources including blogs, social networks, forums and articles in printed media such as newspapers and magazines and their websites. It identifies influencers as a person, brand or company that expresses a relevant opinion meaningful enough to elicit action from others. That means bloggers and journalists are captured, as well as Tweeters and Facebookers with engaged followings.

Lists like this are meaningful for both companies marketing to consumers, as well as consumers paying attention to technology in the auto space because the rankings tell consumers as well as the companies marketing to them where the conversations are taking place and who is driving them.

Who else are the big influencers around technology these days? There are some surprising findings.

Forty-five percent of the discussion about cars and technology in a recent period measured by Appinions was about fuel economy in general, not just about electric vehicles. Ford ranked tops in this measurement too, followed by Toyota and tiny luxury automaker Tesla. Tesla has only sold a few thousand cars to date, but it still trumped huge auto companies like General Motors and Volkswagen because of the hoopla around its Model S electric car.

And who are the individuals in the tech and auto industries with the most juice? Tesla Motors chief Elon Musk leads the pack these days, followed by New York Times reporter John Broder who got into a public squabble with Musk over his review and test of Tesla's Model S.

Number three on the list is President Obama, because of his influence and comments about higher fuel economy standards, outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn. New York City Mayor Bloomberg, former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz who tends to be a quote machine for journalists and bloggers. AOL's own Danny King who writes for made the list as well.

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