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Connected Cars Driving 2014 CES to Become More of an Auto Show

Nine of the Top 10 carmakers are exhibiting at the giant tech event -- ready for some car-tech talk?

CES has always been the place to find the latest in TVs, but each year, some other category seems to dominate the show.

A few years ago, it was PCs and netbooks. E-readers also had a brief moment in the sun, and for the past couple of years, CES has been a big spot for new phones and tablets.

In 2014, CES is shaping up to be a big show for cars. Until now, most of what was being shown off at CES were various in-car electronics. No longer, it seems — for the first time, nine of the top 10 automakers will be exhibiting at the show.

“Even though the Detroit Auto Show is only a couple weeks later, it seems like CES has turned into the auto-electronics show,” said Nvidia VP Ujesh Desai.

The kickoff is Monday, when Audi chairman Rupert Stadler is giving a keynote on Monday evening, during which the German carmaker is widely expected to discuss a partnership with Google to bring Android into their cars.

Many of the traditional consumer electronics names are also engaging in car talk at Vegas this year.

Ford, for example, is using the event to show off, among other things, a new solar hybrid vehicle.

And technologies that allow cars to drive themselves, at least for some scenarios, are also expected to get some attention at the show.

Meanwhile, a number of big names in mobile, including AT&T, Nvidia and Qualcomm, aim to use this year’s show to establish their automotive bona fides.

In many ways, the evolution makes sense. Even carmakers tend to talk about their products as the world’s biggest mobile devices, and the in-car electronics have become as much a differentiator as top speed and horsepower.

Qualcomm EVP Murthy Renduchintala cites his own experience of upgrading an otherwise fine BMW, largely because it lacked even basic ports to connect to other devices.

“I actually bought a $100,000 car just to use an iPod,” said Renduchintala.

That, he admitted, is an exaggerated example of what he said is a growing demand from consumers to see their cars not only come with a decent experience, but also to be upgradeable in the same way as smartphones.

For AT&T, the car represents the latest in a series of formerly disconnected devices that will soon be a node on the ever-growing network.

“We view, and have viewed, the car as just another device in your life,” said Glenn Lurie, who heads the carrier’s emerging devices unit. “You are seeing that come to life at CES.”

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