NPR

U.S. Car Makers Focus On Autonomy, Fuel Economy

Sonari Glinton talks to Audie Cornish about the technology to be introduced at the North American International Auto Show and looks at the most important auto-related innovations to come out of the recent Consumer Electronics Show. The highlights include research in electronic vehicles, advanced manufacturing that allows one assembly line to make dozens of cars, and increasing synergy between Detroit and Silicon Valley.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: We're going to start things off today talking about a tech convergence between Silicon Valley and Detroit's auto industry. For many drivers, the apps available inside new cars are becoming just as important as what's under the hood. That trend can be seen at this year's North American International Auto Show. The show kicks off this week, and NPR's Sonari Glinton is in Detroit and joins us now. Hey there, Sonari.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So tell me, what are the big tech advances that you're seeing in Detroit this year?

GLINTON: Well, being a radio dude, one of the big ones is that Pandora, which is an Internet radio app, announced deals to go directly into cars, so we're going to see Internet radio in cars soon. That's a big deal. But moving beyond, you know, our radio world and into the tech here, I think the most important things are autonomy and electricity. Cadillac is introducing an electric plug-in car, and you really can't exaggerate how important fuel economy is. By 2025, we're going to have to get to 55 miles a gallon, and fuel standards are pushing every single part of the car from the wheels to the seats.

Everyone is pushing to get this higher fuel economy. And then this really awesome thing is that Audi and Toyota especially are making inroads into bringing us driverless cars, you know, cars that drive themselves.

CORNISH: And we hear so much about driverless cars, but how far away are we from actually seeing one on the showroom floor?

GLINTON: We're pretty far. I mean, a lot of cars have features that have some autonomy, you know, park assist, then lane assist where, you know, that's all there. But Audi, which is a subsidiary of Volkswagen, just got the go-ahead to get driverless cars on the street. And Toyota announced that it's going to be doing research into autonomous vehicles. So when you have the two of the three biggest car companies in the world that are getting behind autonomy, that means that, you know, these companies don't do vanity projects so that means they're serious about them.

But the real roadblocks ahead for autonomy is really you and me and the legal system. You know, if you get into an accident with a car that was driverless, well, who's to blame and, you know, who gets insured? And there's going to be a time, some time in the future where we're going to have regular drivers and autonomous vehicles, and that is going to be a really, really difficult time, and we haven't even touched on any of those issues. And all of the car companies and the governments and local governments are going to have to deal with that before we get driverless cars out there. But the technology is coming. It's, you know, we have to get behind that.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sonari Glinton at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Sonari, thank you.

GLINTON: It's great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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