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Advances in safety, entertainment, convenience on display at Pittsburgh International Auto Show

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 11:49 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | For the Tr
Ford Fusion marketing manager Samantha Hoyt shows the rear inflatable seatbelt available in the 2013 Ford Explorer at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Thursday, February 14, 2013. The inflatable seatbelt acts as an airbag for rear passengers. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Stephanie Strasburg | For the Tr
GM spokesman Stephen Martin talks about the new innovations for the 2014 Chevy Silverado at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Thursday, February 14, 2013. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Stephanie Strasburg | For the Tr
The interior of the 2014 Chevy Impala comes with the 'My Link' feature, as shown on screen at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Thursday, February 14, 2013. My link allows up to 10 devices to be synced through the platform, combining passenger's playlists into one playlist and providing access to available apps such as Pandora. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Stephanie Strasburg | For the Tr
The 2014 Chevy Impala safety features include blind spot sensors and a cross traffic alert, which lights up sensors on the car's mirrors as seen at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Thursday, February 14, 2013. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Stephanie Strasburg | For the Tr
The 2013 Toyota Avalon has an optional feature called 'Qi' (pronounced 'chee') that will wirelessly charge your phone if you lay it in the driver side console, as shown at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Downtown on Thursday, February 14, 2013. The Avalon also has other optional technology such as pre-collision system radar technology, rear cross traffic alert, and safety connect emergency assistance with stolen vehicle locator service. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

Safety, fuel-saving and convenience technology that was gee-whiz extras on top luxury vehicles a few years ago are standard on many of the 2013 and 2014 cars, trucks and SUVs on display this weekend at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show.

“These mechanisms keep people alert on the road,” Toyota product specialist Joyce Brew said Thursday as final touches were put on displays by the more than 35 automakers in the annual show.

Technology in new models “is leapfrogging,” said John Putzier, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association, which sponsors the show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center from Friday through Monday.

Examples of this technology:

• New cruise control systems keep a vehicle on pace with the car just ahead on the highway, and speed up or slow down to maintain a desired distance from its back bumper.

• Lane-control devices send signals to drivers who drift over a white or yellow line. And if drivers don't correct their wheels, some devices will nudge the car back into place. Blind spot detectors light up a symbol on a side view mirror and vibrate the steering wheel or beep when a vehicle is passing on the left or right.

• Toyota's computer-link system, called Entune, features applications, or apps, for the Bing search engine, Pandora radio,, and that appear on a dashboard screen. Entune uses the driver's smartphone to access the Internet and is voice-activated.

In addition to electronics, improved fuel performance in traditional gasoline engines is making hybrids “a less compelling buy,” Putzier said.

In most cases, people aren't aware that improved gadgetry helps them on their journeys.

“They're sitting in traffic and they don't know the car just turned off. They just know they're getting better performance, better mileage,” Putzier said.

This year's attendance could pass the 70,000 mark, up from 63,000 in 2012 and 47,000 the year before that, he said.

Sales of new cars and light trucks in the Pittsburgh region grew 5.4 percent last year to 134,785 and are forecast to rise an additional 6.1 percent in 2013. Nationwide, sales improved 13 percent in 2012 as many motorists replaced old, high-mileage vehicles they'd held onto through the recession.

Those new cars include features like Ford's Fusion, which has an optional Auto Start-Stop feature that turns off the engine when the car is stopped in traffic or even a drive-through restaurant line. “Then it seamlessly starts it when you take your foot off the brake,” said Samantha Hoyt, marketing manager for the model. Fuel cost savings are estimated at 3.5 percent.

Also available on the midsize sedan: A driver monitoring system that looks at the last six minutes on the road. If it detects that the driver is weaving, for instance, the system shows a coffee cup on the screen and recommends a break. Another feature momentarily resists a lane change if the driver did not use a turn signal.

Some vehicles have cross-traffic alerts added to their backup warning systems.

“When you're pulling out of a space in a lot, you can't see to the side and another vehicle is racing toward you — the car gives you a warning to step on the brake,” said Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor of, which covers the auto industry.

Blind-spot detection systems are showing up on several models, he said, while lane-departure warnings are found more often among luxury makers such as Infiniti. Mercedes and BMW offer night vision systems that use infrared technology to spot a person or animal farther down the road than a headlight reaches.

“In most cities it's so bright it doesn't add much, but in a remote area where it's very dark, it can be useful,” Wiesenfelder said.

Several Chrysler vehicles have anti-roll systems, with sensors in the steering column and on the body.

“If the driver goes into a panic steer, it signals the brake to help you get the vehicle under control,” said Paul Schimizzi of Hillview Motors in Greensburg. “In an extreme situation, it would cut power to the engine.”

Many extras are geared for entertainment.

Chevrolet's redesigned 2014 Silverado truck and Impala full-size sedan, both available later this year, can sync as many as 10 smartphones, tablet computers or other devices with stereo systems.

The MyLink system even aggregates music play lists from several devices to avoid duplications, so four friends on a hunting trip in a Silverado won't hear the same Guns N Roses song repeatedly, spokesman Steve Martin said.

“Young people insist on some of these compatibility features, or smartphone integration,” Wiesenfelder said, adding that automakers moved from analog jacks that played songs from iPods to wireless Bluetooth technology in just a few years.

“Cars are so good now and people have so many choices that an entertainment system can make or break a deal,” he said.

Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5606 or

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