Mainstreaming safe-car tech at Auto Show

Jose Sierra preps a Porsche 911 during the press preview at the Philadelphia Auto Show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Jan. 30, 2015. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )

Pizzazz and performance will offer their usual allure as the Philadelphia Auto Show opens Saturday at the Convention Center for its nine-day run. Acres of autos - about 700 vehicles from 40 brands - are on display, including "concept cars" and exotic Ferraris and Lamborghinis that ordinary drivers rarely get to touch.

But many show-goers will be wowed this year by developments less visible than shiny sheet metal or powerful, fuel-efficient engines under the hood. Sophisticated safety systems and integrated "infotainment" controls designed to lessen driver distraction are increasingly front and center at the car show.

"Now it's almost assumed that the cars are mechanically correct, and it's the technology that presents the great challenge," Auto Show chairman Don Franks said before the opening of the show, which each year draws about 250,000 people to Center City in midwinter.

Franks, president of Montgomeryville's J.L. Freed Honda, said the show's sweet spot remains its ability to let car lovers see the amazing along with the everyday.

"It allows you to dream a bit, and it also allows you to see what may be your next car," he said during a media preview Friday, to be followed Friday night by a $225-a-person black-tie gala that benefits Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

For many, one of the defining aspects of that "next car" may be the mainstreaming of high-tech features that make older vehicles seem, well, like an old-fashioned flip phone - the unsmart kind that won't synchronize with systems such as Ford's new Sync 3 or Honda's HondaLink, which can put vehicle features and smartphone apps under a driver's voice control.

Crash-protection data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety even shows up in some of the displays.

Subaru, for example, is showing off its EyeSight driver-assist system, and touting its success in IIHS comparisons. Available on some Forester, Legacy, and Outback models, it includes adaptive cruise control that adjusts to the speed of the vehicle you're following, lane-departure warning, and brakes that self-activate to avoid a front-end collision.

Lack eyes in the back of your head? Subaru has one-upped the now-widespread rear-facing cameras with a "Rear Vehicle Detection System" that it says can help avoid accidents caused by blind spots or cross traffic, and ensure safer lane changes.

"IIHS says we have the best crash avoidance on the market right now" in a mainstream vehicle, said Ted Dicks, a product specialist for Cherry Hill-based Subaru of America.

Growing evidence that some innovations, particularly automatic braking, offer real safety advantages is clearly helping to push them down-market.

Some models of the Toyota Camry, redesigned for 2015, offer a radar-based collision-avoidance system that "can apply up to 100 percent of braking," said Toyota product specialist Ron Williams. A similar system had been offered on Toyota Avalon sedans and Sienna minivans, and on cars from Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand.

Steve Randall, Ford's Philadelphia marketing manager, said the automaker sees itself as "not just a product company but a mobility company," and also is pursuing innovations aimed at addressing urban congestion - much of it caused by drivers' search for parking.

Ford's answers for the future include concepts such as parking-locator apps, driverless vehicles, and even ride-sharing. At the Auto Show, you can see its "enhanced parking assistance" on vehicles such as the new 2015 Edge crossover.

Not only will it help you parallel park your car, it will even guide you into a perpendicular space, and help you back out by warning of cross traffic.


Philadelphia Auto Show

Saturday through Feb. 8 at the Convention Center, 1100 Arch St.

Hours: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; weekdays, noon to 10 p.m.; Feb. 8, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Tickets: Adults, $13; seniors (weekdays only) and children 7-12, $6; children 6 and under, free.


215-854-2776 @jeffgelles