Companies at the Geneva auto show will be showing off new ways to use technology, like holographic brake lights, voice-controlled music systems and Web-based diagnostic services, to improve the driving experience.
The Rinspeed zaZen concept car boasts a roof that is an almost translucent plastic, hard as metal but that can be rendered opaque at the touch of a button. The car also sports holographic brake lights that seem to emanate from the air, making them easier for other drivers to see.
Designed by Swiss engineer Frank M. Rinderknecht, it is built using contoured and transparent plastics from Bayer MaterialScience.
Three new Fiat and Alfa Romeo models will feature Microsoft Corp.'s new "Blue&Me" in-car information and entertainment system, which lets drivers plug in USB-compatible music devices — including Apple Computer Corp.'s iPods — and control it via their voices.
It also will let drivers use their BlueTooth-enabled cell phones by voice command.
"The system software can be upgraded to support new devices and new in-car experiences over the life of the car similar to how we upgrade software on PCs today," said Microsoft spokesman Nate Murphy.
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Similar to General Motors Corp.'s OnStar service, he said, Fiat owners would have access to a Web service to check out problems with the car.
"For example, if your 'check engine' light goes off, the owner can push a button to notify Fiat, they will evaluate what's wrong and send a message back to the driver re: the urgency of the problem and help them schedule an appointment at the dealer," Murphy said.
The service will only be available in Europe, at a price of between $500 to $800 as an option, with an expansion to the U.S. more than likely. Microsoft is in talks with other car makers about using the system.
Automakers are also looking at new hybrid engines.
Japan's Mazda will be showing its Mazda5 Hydrogen RE Hybrid concept, which is powered by a Rensis rotary-dual fuel engine that gives drivers the option of using either hydrogen or gasoline, as well as an electronic motor under the hood.
Out in force will be U.S. automakers, which are struggling at home with declining sales and falling profits and are looking for help from Europe.
Chrysler Group will show the Dodge Hornet concept, an aggressively designed B-segment car. Dodge hopes to attract young, active buyers with features that include colored glass throughout the car and a first-aid kit tucked into the driver's door. Chrysler hasn't yet said if it will build the Hornet.
GM will show the Chevrolet Captiva, the brand's first diesel-powered compact sport utility vehicle. Among the Captiva's high-tech options is a system that automatically activates four-wheel-drive based on driving conditions. The Captiva goes on sale in June.
Ford Motor Co. will debut the S-MAX, its attempt to capture a larger share of Europe's growing crossover market. The S-MAX includes a new system for Ford called hill launch assist, which allows the driver to release the brake pedal and step on the accelerator without the vehicle going backwards.