Trucks, technology take center stage at North American International Auto Show

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DETROIT (WJRT) (1/15/2018) - Pickup trucks and technology have created the biggest buzz through the first media preview days of the North American International Auto Show.

The Detroit Three automakers all have released their new lines of pickup trucks, which are selling briskly thanks to relatively low gas prices over the past few years.

But one of the last reveals Monday afternoon came from Toyota: It's 2019 Avalon sedan. The Japanese automaker wanted to remind the world that there is still a place for sedans on the road.

The Avalon has a lot of Michigan roots. It was designed in Ann Arbor and engineered in Saline.

Toyota plans on having four different versions of the vehicle, each designed to fit a different type of consumer.

There aren't many concept vehicles being rolled out this year. Automakers are focusing their displays on what's going to be on the road and the technology underneath the hood.

This is why the North American International Auto show is so important to the industry.

"Detroit is still the leading American auto show. There's no question," said Joe Wiesenfelder, the executive editor for "There are years where people start to question it, but certainly not this year. There's so many important vehicles here. Big sellers. High volume vehicles. It gets the most international attention."

About 5,000 journalists from around the world are in Detroit checking out the show. It opens to the public on Friday with the Charity Preview and on Saturday for regular hours through Jan. 28.

Tickets are $14 for adults and $7 for children and seniors.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition hosted an observance in Cobo Hall for the late civil rights icon. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was part of that celebration, as well as Flint Mayor Karen Weaver.

Weaver said she took part not only to tour the show, but also try and bring back some jobs and work for the Flint area.

Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley also toured the show Monday. They started in the Ford exhibit, getting a tour by Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr..

Snyder was especially interested in the new Mustang Bullitt, which Ford revealed Sunday night. He then went over to the Chevy display, where he checked out the new Silverado.

Snyder proclaimed this week as AutoMobili-D Week in Michigan. This is the second year for AutoMobili-D, which is a huge expo at the auto show for startups, suppliers, universities and government organizations.

Snyder said his tour was bittersweet, as it will be his last as governor.

"As my time as governor -- this is year eight -- the show only gets better and better in terms of the exciting things going on," he said.

Also attending the show over the weekend was an official with the Trump administration. U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao talked about the future of self-driving vehicles.

For self-driving cars to be successful, she said automakers and the tech industry need to calm fears among motorists.

"Transportation is on the verge of the most significant transformation since the introduction of the automobile," Chao said.

General Motors recently put in a request with the Department of Transportation last week asking to put a self driving car with no pedal or steering wheel on the road by 2019.

Talk at the auto show in Detroit, shifted to new federal guidelines for autonomous vehicles.

"Automated or self driving vehicles are about to change the way we travel and connect with one another," Chao said.

But motorists so far are skeptical of the new technology.

"A recent triple a survey found that 78 percent of Americans surveyed are afraid to ride in a driverless car," Chao said. "If you refer to it as a self driving car, the anxiety drops."

The federal government hopes to roll out new guidelines this summer to help bring regulations in line with a self driving future. Eventually those rules will be expanded into trucking, transit and other areas.

Chao said safety is the top priority more than anything.

"That is why a key part of the department's mission is to cultivate and encourage innovation in safety by eliminating unnecessary obstacles to the development and integration of new technology," she said.

One of the concerns about driverless vehicles is that all of the new technology in the vehicles could create job loss. But Chao said it should spark job growth in a new sector.

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