Atlanta car show to draw thousands downtown

The Atlanta International Auto Show. Noon-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; noon-10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Adults $10, children 6 to 12 $5, under 6 free. Georgia World Congress Center C Building, 235 Northside Drive, Atlanta (next to Georgia Dome). 770-916-1741,

Technology is changing the way we drive cars, and many of the latest gee-whiz gadgets will be on display at the Georgia World Congress Center next week.

The 31st annual Atlanta International Auto Show, expected to attract thousands March 13-17, will feature the newest lineups and latest driving technology from about 30 manufacturers, ranging from Acura to Volvo. At least 13 car makers will have autos available to drive.

Rob Douthit, who writes for car publications and the Atlanta Auto Beat blog, said car makers are having a hard time keeping up with the fast-moving world of electronics, but there are plenty of changes to see since the days of stick shifts and AM-FM radios.

“We’ve come a long way since then,” said Douthit, who gets to test drive more than 40 cars a year for a week at a time.

The key innovation in modern driving is telemetrics — or smart systems for the driver.

“Systems have evolved pretty quickly over the last two or three years,” Douthit said. “They give a driver access to information that, before, you had to pull over to the side of the road and get out a book or — heaven forbid, if you are a guy — stop in a gas station and ask for, like where you are going.”

Car sales are a closely watched indicator of economic health, and the uptick in stock prices and sales numbers have car makers feeling optimistic.

Many of those attending the show last year expressed concerns about the economy and job security, which affected the willingness to buy a new car.

But Autodata, a research firm, said sales are up this year compared with last year. Car makers sold 1.19 million vehicles during February, a 3.7 percent increase over sales in the same period last year.

To push sales along, builders are incorporating more technology to make driving easier or safer.

Douthit said now you can ask your entertainment system to cue up your favorite band and song to play, or tell it to dial your mom for a phone conversation.

A couple of touches on a smart screen can provide information on gas mileage or where the next restaurant is.

“They have apps you can program into the system, say, for weather or traffic. Pretty much any app you can access through your smartphone is available on these systems,” Douthit said.

Cameras for backing up come as standard equipment on many cars; some have automatic parking and adaptive cruise control that slows down and resumes speed when encountering a slow driver in the fast lane; high-end cars are sporting “blind spot” warning systems; and the industry appears to be headed toward complete automation.

“Google has been working on something for a few years now … where the car drives itself,” Douthit said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is one of the sponsors of the car show.

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