Weekly Brief: Connected tech reigns supreme at 2016 New York Auto Show

The car may still be king at the New York Auto Show but “mobility service” was the buzzword this year in the exhibition halls and keynote addresses. CEO of Nissan and Renault Carlos Ghosn got the show started with an opening address broadly dedicated to the topic.

“Rather than fear the disruption (of connected technology), I believe our industry really has no choice but to embrace it and participate,” said Ghosn.

General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra and Ford’s CEO Mark Fields were two of the many other executives who echoed the sentiment that connected tech is where carmakers now must compete, from infotainment and apps to safety and semi-autonomous features. Many of the show’s 37 world debuts placed connected tech front-and-centre.

One of the biggest debuts belonged to the 2017 Toyota Prius Prime. An amped up version of the original Toyota Prius, this plug-in hybrid has twice the all-electric range at 22 miles of its older kin and a new dashboard that includes an exclusive 11.6-inch touchscreen tablet. Toyota’s new bundle of Prius Prime Apps enable remote monitoring and remote charging. There’s also an Intelligent Parking Assist feature that powers front, reverse and parallel self-parking. Market debut is set for this autumn.

Another show stopper was the Lincoln Navigator Concept that attendees were encouraged to enter via a futuristic stairwell and gullwing doors. Inside, the car offered individual screens for every passenger except the driver and each of those screens had its own hook-up to smartphones or tablets via Apple CarPlay. The car also had a cool video chat system that connected rear passengers with the driver. A similar car (minus the pop-up doors and ladder) is expected in Lincoln’s 2018 Navigator.

Hybrids had a good week in New York beyond the Prius Prime. Hyundai debuted the 2017 Ioniq, which comes powered with either an electric engine, a plug-in hybrid, or a straight hybrid with a claimed 58mpg fuel economy. Acura unveiled the 2017 Acura MDX, the latest rendition of its popular midsize SUV. This is the first generation to get a hybrid powertrain, and the car is also souped-up with automatic cruise control, lane assistance and emergency braking.

The 2017 Kia Cadenza showed off the same trio of semi-autonomous steering. The car also comes with a wireless smartphone charger an optional head-up display and the UVO infotainment system with full integration of both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Outside of the show, the auto media threw itself into a tizzy over a rumoured deal between Uber and Mercedes-Benz. According to Germany’s Manager Magazin (and then Reuters and everyone else), Uber has scooped up more than 100,000 Mercedes-Benz S Class limousines with semi-autonomous functionality with the goal of pole vaulting its self-driving car programme ahead of its competition. Who knows the reliability of the sources; some media outlets have called the story into question in bold fashion and we’re inclined toward scepticism ourselves, what with Uber’s already robust self-driving car programme. Why the need for 100,000 cars with mediocre semi-autonomous features? Perhaps the ridesharing company wants to keep pace with GM's and Lyft’s latest plan to rent cars to prospective drivers? It’s all hypotheses for now.

Self-driving cars won a major regulatory victory in Europe, where the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) amended the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic so that automated driving technologies transferring driving tasks to the vehicle will be explicitly allowed in traffic. The one provision is that the self-driving technologies are in conformity with the United Nations vehicle regulations or can be overridden or switched off by the driver. UNECE is currently reviewing further regulatory amendments to support self-steering systems like lane departure assist, highway autopilot and self-parking.

Israel wants in on the self-driving car revolution and it wants in in a big way. The country has created a steering team led by the Israel Transportation Ministry to oversee the creation of “the first autonomous city in the world,” according to Ynet News. For now the steering team will simply lay the groundwork among Israel’s various ministries to make autonomous vehicle testing a possibility. We’ll keep you posted if more dramatic details of planet earth’s first self-driving city emerge soon.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

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