Here's a closer look at some of the new tech developments on display in New York:
1. Racing Toward Electric
BMW, famous as a performance brand with powerful gasoline engines, is introducing an all-electric version of its small-car 1 Series coupe. As a market test , the company will lease this ActiveE electric for two years to 700 volunteers on the East and West coasts at $499 a month. This is BMW's second electric foray; the automaker previously tested its lithium ion battery-powered system on a fleet of Minis, a brand owned by the company.
Meanwhile Nissan's Leaf -- the first all-electric car on the market -- emerged at the show in a snazzy racing version (below left). The company's "NISMO" performance division hopes that new Leaf will spur interest in electric car racing.
As for the original Leaf, its Japanese production was disrupted by the earthquake and tsunami. But Carlos Tavares, Nissan vice president for the Americas, announced at the show that the first post-earthquake shipment of Leaf cars has now left Japan and will arrive in the U.S. shortly.
2. Mileage Boosters
Manufacturers are racing to meet the tough 2016 federal mileage standards, working to develop whatever mileage-boosting advantages they can. Reducing wind drag is one way to make those gains: New cars as varied as the subcompact 2012 Kia Rio and the large-car 2013 Ford Taurus have introduced shutters that improve aerodynamics by closing automatically when outside air is not needed to cool the engine. (See Big Buzz for Small Cars at the New York Auto Show.)
The Rio -- rated at 30 mpg in city driving, 40 mpg on the highway -- employs another gas-saving technology. Anyone who has driven a hybrid like the Toyota Prius is familiar with that slightly eerie feeling when the engine shuts off completely at a stoplight or other full stop. Now the Rio is one of the first all-gasoline cars to use a similar gas-saving system.
3. Entertainment & Connectivity
Ford's pioneering SYNC system, which lets the driver use voice commands to play music or make cell phone calls, has given Ford a competitive advantage, especially among younger buyers. Now other manufacturers are developing similar systems.
Toyota's Entune system also features voice recognition and a way to connect with your smartphone and its apps -- to, for instance, play your favorite Pandora station. (Though on display at the auto show, the debut of the Entune system scheduled in the upcoming Prius V model may now be delayed by earthquake-related production delays.)
Among emergency safety systems, General Motors' OnStar, which automatically contacts an operator to call 911 in case of an accident, has been the leader. Hyundai is now introducing its Blue Link, a similar system, which will be rolled out this summer in the 2012 Hyundai Sonata. Like OnStar, Blue Link will require paid monthly or annual subscriptions, though the company did not discuss pricing. (OnStar typically starts at $18.95 a month).
Photos by Jerry Edgerton and courtesy of the manufacturers
More from MoneyWatch: