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CES: Why car gadgets are making inroads at Las Vegas electronics show

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With more new vehicles designed to link buyers up with their smart phones, digital media players, and other portable devices, automakers’ sales pitches are increasingly accentuating the cars’ lifestyle components and not just their speed, body design, and performance.

“Automakers have really found that technology sells cars,” says Doug Newcomb, senior technology editor for Edmunds.com, who is attending the trade show this year.

As consumers show more reliance on portable devices, carmakers are now eager to show them how they can use them seamlessly on the road.

Ford’s voice-controlled Sync entertainment system started the ball rolling for hands-free technology. The automaker launched Sync in 2007, when no other domestic automaker seemed to consider dashboard electronics to be of much importance beyond car stereos systems and thermostat controls.

Sync allows drivers to access all their portable devices via a touchscreen; a smart-phone app – launched this week at the tradeshow – gives drivers verbal alerts on daily deals when they drive past retail or restaurant locations they pre-assign with importance.

Another sign car companies are getting serious about in-car technology is their budding network of alliances in Silicon Valley.

This month Ford announced it is opening a research lab in Silicon Valley, near Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The company says it will employ about 15 people tasked with keeping abreast of trends and bringing it back to the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

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