LAS VEGAS (AFP) — The automobile's future is electronic and green, using alternate fuels and slick technology to protect both people and the environment, the head of the world's largest car company said Tuesday.
General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner's prediction came in an unprecedented address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
He capped his presentation by unveiling a prototype Cadillac Provoq sedan powered by hydrogen and electricity from a lithium ion battery pack.
Wagoner promised that by 2012 half the car maker's US production line will be devoted to vehicles powered by "Flexfuel," environmentally friendly alternatives to oil-based fuels.
"The future of the auto is bright and increasingly electronic," Wagoner said in the first-ever CES speech by a car company executive.
"All the factors point to a convergence of the automotive and electronics industries that is literally transforming the automobile."
A major advancement on the horizon is getting cars to communicate with each other, according to Wagoner.
Cars will be able to receive signals from other vehicles and then use computerized controls to take actions such as slowing to avoid collisions.
"One of the next big steps is to connect automobiles electronically to keep them from connecting physically," Wagoner said. "We are working our way up the technology ladder."
New cars already contain more electronics than steel, a GM engineer said.
Existing mapping, satellite navigation, wireless communications, and spatial detection devices can be integrated to build a "robot car" smart enough to drive itself, he noted.
A Chevrolet Tahoe converted into a self-driving vehicle won the US defense department's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Urban Challenge by maneuvering through traffic on mock city streets in November.
Carnegie Mellon University students modified the SUV into an "autonomous vehicle" with backing from GM.
"Autonomous driving means that someday you could do your e-mail, eat breakfast, do your makeup, and watch a video while commuting to work," Wagoner said.
"In other words, you could do all the things you do now while commuting to work but do them safely."
GM's OnStar system in cars already automatically summons help in the event of crashes and pinpoints the locations of stolen vehicles.
System upgrades soon to be implemented include remotely forcing stolen cars to slow or stop when spotted by police to prevent thieves from racing away, according to GM.
OnStar improvements soon to be revealed include sending e-mail directions from computers to cars and using mobile telephones to lock doors, start engines, or honk to signal locations in parking lots, a GM engineer said.
In November, GM signed a deal to provide OnStar service in China.
Electronic innovations are vital to breaking the auto industry's oil dependency for the sake of the world's deteriorating climate and dwindling oil reserves, Wagoner said.
"The auto industry can no longer rely almost exclusively on oil," Wagoner said. "This is a global issue."
Approximately 270 million cars and trucks were sold worldwide in 2007 and analysts expect that figure to more than triple in the next few years due to demand in China and other growing economies in Asia.
GM will soon announce production of a plug-in electric car, Wagoner said.
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