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Steve Murray

Drive Into The Future

Mike Niethammer, president of King Windward Nissan and the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association, says vehicles on display at this weekend’s First Hawaiian International Auto Show provide a peek into the future, when our wheels will be smarter, safer and cooler

Vehicles on display at this weekend’s First Hawaiian International Auto Show provide a peek into the future, when our wheels will be smarter, safer, more fuel efficient and just plain cooler

Someday, in some future year, we will all be passengers in our own cars. With a push of a button or a voice command, GPS, 360-degree cameras, smart technology and accelerator control systems will sync unnoticeably to whisk us to our destination.

Totally disconnected from the physical demand of driving, we’ll nap, read or safely cruise the Internet actively mapping out the rest of our day as we hurl blissfully unaware of the traffic around us. Until that awful day happens, we’ll still need to press the accelerator, jam through gears and dive into turns causing oversteer until the rear tires break from their claustrophobic confines of concrete, sending us sliding around the bend. In other words, we still need to have fun. Hopefully, we are a long way from such a bleak existence.

Americans didn’t invent the car and we don’t market the highest level of technical advancement. But we did create the car culture and the celebration of 4 million U.S. miles helps maintain the same need for exploration that made us a bicoastal nation. Today, it’s just faster, more comfortable and far less dangerous.

Auto shows are a celebration of the national love affair with the automobile. In Hawaii that annual honoring of all that is slick, fast and comfortable is the First Hawaiian International Auto Show. This year, more than 350 of the newest and most technologically-advanced cars and trucks will be on display. It’s one-stop shopping without sales pressure and the risk of sudden downpour. Plus, it’s air conditioned. What could be better?

“Where else can you see nearly every automaker that’s sold in Hawaii in one hour?” says Mike Niethammer, president of King Windward Nissan and of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association (HADA).

“Instead of driving all over the island, you can go to the auto show and you can get a feel about what you like or what you don’t like. It’s a great opportunity for everyone.”

Niethammer’s excitement over the event isn’t just based on an individual deal-er’s bottom line. A healthy auto industry means a vibrant economy. Even in the face of rising gas prices, February annualized sales rates totaled 15.4 million cars and trucks nationally. The increase was shared among individual and business purchases. GM truck sales to small businesses were up 40 percent over last year’s February sales figures.

Auto shows are key to keeping interest in new vehicles alive, and the First Hawaiian International Auto Show is no different.

“The auto show creates a lot of buzz and I think every dealer expects an increase in sales in the weeks and months surrounding the auto show,” says Niethammer.

According to HADA, new retail vehicle registrations were up 20.9 percent in 2012. This growth was seen across all models as light trucks gained 15.4 percent, cars up 26.5 percent, and electric and hybrid vehicle new retail registrations nearly doubling between 2011 and 2012.

Much of the sales increase was driven by customer desire for safer and more fuel-efficient vehicles, and government mandates that requires automakers to increase fuel economy. Current standards set the corporate fuel economy average at 29 miles per gallon. This number will gradually increase to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

“The competition among manufacturers really pushes things,” says Niethammer. “They are all trying to beat each other’s brains out, but in the end it’s gonna create better, more technological cars, safer cars. That’s all from competition.”

As in years past, much of the buzz surrounding the auto show will be created by the technological changes that have occurred in recent years. From better fuel economy, to safety and performance, each year brings a greater level of engineering achievement.

“The buyers are more technologically savvy than ever,” says Niethammer. “They do more research before they even come on to the lot. Some people come in very specific. They know the model they want, what features they want, what colors they want.”

Some of the newer technical advancements that will be on display include:

* Accident-Avoidance Sensors: Sensors monitor the driver and other vehicles on the road to alert the driver of encroaching danger and in some cases prevent an accident from occurring. Some models also offer radar-guided cruise control to help drivers keep a safe distance from other vehicles and to warn drivers should they fall asleep (found in select models, including those from Acura, Audi, Cadillac, and Mercedes.)

* Parking Assist: Having problems with parallel parking? Sensors in the vehicle will park the car for you. (Available from Ford, Lexus, Toyota and others.)

* Surround-View Cameras with Collision Prevention: Cameras mounted on all four sides of the vehicle give the driver a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. Systems can even engage breaks if person or vehicle crosses its path that the driver can’t see or act quickly enough to avoid. (Audi, Nissan, Mercedes, Infiniti.)

* Engine Start-Stop Systems: To increase fuel economy, vehicles automatically shut themselves off at idle and then restart once the accelerator is pressed. This can reduce fuel consumption by 5 to 15 percent and save on emissions. (Audi, Buick, Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota and others.)

* Other neat stuff includes smartphone applications, hands-free power lift gates and trunks, built in WiFi, Pandora radio, voice-controlled hands-free music and inductive charging for mobile phones and other devices.

In addition to the vehicles, attendees can enjoy the Motor Trend Augmented Reality Experience, dine on free Papa John’s pizza, download a free Motor Trend smartphone app and get a free subscription to Motor Trend magazine. Attendees can stop by the Sony’s a77 “Best in Class” studio to have their picture taken in some of the world’s fastest cars.

Active duty military, reservists and National Guard members can take advantage of the Military Two-Fer Day and get two admission tickets for the price of one. There is even a chance to take home more than a new car or truck. Every two hours, a finalist who registers at the show will be selected to pick from one of 295 bags stuffed with prizes valued up to $100,000.

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