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Automakers announce new internet features at CES

Here's a scene from the future: On a long road trip, your car is a rolling wi-fi hot spot. The kids are in the backseat watching online videos and playing games and your spouse in the passenger seat is checking e-mail. As for you, you still need to keep your eyes on the road.

That scenario may not be so far off in the future, according to General Motors and other companies making announcements this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. GM's Chevrolet division announced that a selection of its 2015 vehicles would have built-in 4G broadband that could call up websites on the central dashboard screen. It also would act as a wi-fi hot spot that could connect to up to seven phones, tablets or other devices.

In addition, Google is joining an alliance with GM, Audi, Honda and Hyundai to bring similar connectivity to cars with Google's Android technology. Rival Apple also has an  alliance with Honda as well as with BMW and  Mercedes-Benz. "The car is the ultimate mobile computer. With onboard supercomputing chips, futuristic cars of our dreams will no longer be science fiction," said Jen-Hsun Huang, president and CEO of graphics technology company Nvidia Corp., which is part of the Android alliance.

Chevrolet  says the new technology will be available first on 2015 versions of the Corvette, Impala, Malibu and Volt and later on the Equinox, Silverado and Spark. That will be paired with the Chevrolet App Store, which will offer apps such as one from the Weather Channel that gives both audio and visual updates on the weather. In addition, streaming music apps such as iHeartRadio and Slacker will be available as free apps. A Priceline.com app lets travelers book hotel rooms.

Safety concerns are likely to be one of the biggest drawbacks of some new features. Officials of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have expressed concerns that internet connections on the central dashboard screen could be a dangerous distraction. NHTSA could publish additional future rules about how such systems can operate.

CES always has been a premier showcase for new technology. As automotive technology has moved swiftly in recent years, additional attention at CES has focused on these automotive advances.

In other introductions this week at CES:

  • Audi will show new headlights that combine LED low beams and laser high beams, which the company says will outshine regular headlamps and light up something in the road about one-third of a mile ahead.
  • Ford will display new technology to be installed in its recently-introduced, all-new 2015 Mustang. This will include safety features like adaptive cruise control and back-up cameras and an eight-inch central dashboard screen.
  • Mazda, which has received critical praise for redesigned models like the Mazda3, will show off a new system for integrating smartphones, which includes a safety-minded controller designed to be used entirely by feel.
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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.