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Carmakers have long known that everything takes a back seat to emotion when it comes to buying a new vehicle, so it is no surprise to see plenty of emphasis on gadgets, environmentally friendly engines and safety at this year's New York International Auto Show.
All of the major auto companies have stepped up efforts to deliver in-car "infotainment" that integrates drivers' mobile phones, the Internet and portable digital music players with GPS navigation and emergency response services. The idea is to offer a dashboard touch screen interface with Web-based applications and use one's smart phone as a mini, mobile Internet server.
Ford Motor Co., which led such efforts when it teamed up with Microsoft in 2007 to introduce an in-vehicle communications and entertainment system running on the Windows Embedded Automotive operating system, is now debuting MyFord Touch with SYNC at the auto show. Whereas earlier versions provided the ability to make mobile phone calls and select digital music files using voice commands, MyFord Touch (called MyLincoln in the company's luxury brand) offers navigation features, the ability to automatically call 911 in an emergency, Internet connectivity, and several other features that can be accessed via a 20-centimeter touch screen. The 2011 Ford Edge is the first model to feature MyFord Touch.
Other carmakers have followed suit. At the auto show General Motors introduced MyLink whereas Toyota rolled out its Entune multimedia system. Both car companies' infotainment offerings provide voice-controlled access to Pandora Internet radio and both support the most common smart phones, including the iPhone, Blackberry and Google Android devices. Entune offers a few more apps than MyLink (branded as IntelliLink in Buick and GMC vehicles), including the Bing search engine, OpenTable for restaurant reservations, iheartradio for streaming radio stations to the iPhone, and MovieTickets.com, which offers online showtime information, theater locations and ticket sales. IntelliLink and MyLink offer drivers access to Stitcher SmartRadio, an app used to organize music, contacts and other information stored on mobile phones.
Infotainment aside, Toyota has stepped up its alternatives to internal combustion–powered cars. The company's Prius V, due out this summer and the first model to feature Entune, is a larger version of its gas–electric hybrid (positioned more as a mini station wagon) that gets about 64 kilometers per gallon. The company's 2012 plug-in Prius hybrid was also on display at the auto show as was an all-electric version of the 2012 Rav4 SUV.
Ford also talked up the latest version of EcoBoost, its turbocharged, direct-injected engines introduced in 2007 and designed to deliver more power and torque to smaller engines as it improves fuel efficiency and reduces greenhouse emissions. The 2013 Taurus sedan will be available with one of two different versions of the EcoBoost engine—a 3.5-liter V-6 or a 2.0-liter four cylinder, which should achieve about 50 kilometers per gallon highway, the company said at the show.
Meanwhile, GM's Chevy Volt beat out the BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics Edition, Nissan Leaf and others to win the title of 2011 World Green Car of the Year. (The Leaf did win 2011 World Car of the Year, minus the "green".) The previous international green car winner was Volkswagen with its 2010 lineup of BlueMotion vehicles, which includes the Golf, Passat and Polo.
View a slide show of the exhibit.