Pittsburgh International Auto Show: This year's cars undergo electrifying changes

February 15, 2012 12:01 am
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With a product like the automobile, which has been around for more than a century, there aren't a lot of dramatic changes most years. Ford did it in the 1990s with the SUV; Chrysler with the minivan.

But, mostly, changes in non-commercial vehicles designed to transport a person or family and personal stuff are incremental.

This year, the changes are about electronics.

There have been electronics in cars since the end of the crank start. The electric starter motor eliminated the need to crank the car by hand, and eliminated the broken wrists that occurred when the car backfired and the crank shot back around at the startled driver. (This new technology -- full disclosure -- hurt the finances of my grandfather, a city doctor who used to set the wrists of early motorists).

After the starter motor, then came windshield wipers and the Blaupunkt radio in the Studebaker -- talk about your driver distraction for those laughing at "Fibber McGee and Molly."

Electronics in cars these days make the old radios, with the dials that had push buttons that would move the tuner and whistling noises between stations, seem as quaint as the old Dodge Dart with its boxy hood and fins.

This year, Chrysler is resurrecting the Dodge Dart, or at least the name. While Darts of old had long hoods and round headlights, and were mostly available with a three-speed transmission on a V8, the new version with a six-speed manual doesn't even look like a distant cousin.

Sure, both have four wheels and are made by Chrysler, but there is nothing retro about the new Dart.

It looks like most contemporary small sedans, having more in common with a Toyota Camry than a classic Chrysler. It also has bells and whistles on its bells and whistles, including a SiriusXM Travel Link that provides information on weather when rolling down the window isn't enough.

First Published 2012-02-14 23:33:25

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