Automakers Mark Moves Into Tech With Expanded Presence At CES : All Tech Considered Consumers love gadgets and they're demanding more of them in their cars. At the Consumer Electronics Show, automakers are unveiling hints of the increasingly automated car of the future.

Automakers Mark Moves Into Tech With Expanded Presence At CES

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Today is the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and this year, the talk of the show has not been about a Web-connected toaster or high-tech glasses. This year, it's the automobile. Digital technology has become an increasingly vital part of the car business. NPR's Sonari Glinton covers cars, and he's at CES.

Hey there, Sonari.


CORNISH: So first, two big U.S. automakers are making moves into the ridesharing business. Tell us about it.

GLINTON: Well, GM announced yesterday that it was going to invest $500 million in the tech startup Lyft, the ridesharing company. And there were reports - and here is the big news that was supposed to come out of this show - that Ford and Google would announce a major partnership to build an autonomous car. That did not happen. It most certainly did not happen. But what did happen was Ford, in a major step, said that it wanted to be a transportation company, meaning it wants to do more than just make and sell cars. They want to get a piece of the action that is the Ubers of the world or the Zipcars - the ridesharing and the car sharing. It's unclear how far the talks between Google and Ford got or whether or not they happened at all, but we do know that Ford and General Motors desperately want to transform themselves so, as the head of Ford said, they won't be disrupted by new technologies like other industries have been.

CORNISH: Of course the car companies always like to make a big showing at CES, right? But what do you think is different about this year?

GLINTON: Well, if you think about it, your car is probably your biggest, most expensive gadget. What has changed is that consumers have changed. So recent surveys have shown that the most important thing to the consumer is not horsepower or fuel economy, it's the tech that's inside the car. Essentially, the consumer wants their car to be a rolling smartphone. And the car companies are a long way from making that happen, but they've woken up to the necessity to get there. And right now with record car sales and likely record profits, they have the money to invest in this new technology. And that's what's different - the money and the consumers.

CORNISH: You're describing this evolving consumer relationship, right, with cars, what we want out of cars. But what else is in the future of the car business?

GLINTON: Well, the future of the car business is in your pocket. It is definitely the smartphone. The convergence between the smartphone and the car is super important - that and the autonomous car. We are at a point where everyone realizes that autonomous cars or self-driving cars are in the really, really near future. It's how we're going to get there and what is that make up going to look like? And increasingly, CES and the Detroit Auto Show are places where the industry discusses and tries to figure out how are we going to get to a point where cars are going to be driving themselves and we can, like, kick back and listen to your great interview.

CORNISH: (Laughter). That's NPR's Sonari Glinton speaking to us from Las Vegas.

Sonari, thanks so much.

GLINTON: It's always a pleasure, Audie.

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