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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 8, 2008 at 6:03 PM

CES: GM boss Provoqs gadget crowd

LAS VEGAS — There wasn’t a lot of news in GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner’s keynote speech this afternoon, but the crowd patiently waited for the big draw that everyone was expecting: the first public unveiling of the Cadillac Provoq.

The Provoq is a concept fuel cell vehicle that puts GM’s upcoming “E-Flex” power system into a crossover/wagon platform that’s larger than the previous showcase, the still-not-ready Chevy Volt.

The Provoq uses a hydrogen fuel-cell system to extend the range of the plug-in electric vehicle. It also has a solar panel on the roof to power electronic accessories, and nifty touches such as grill louvers that close at high speed to improve aerodynamics.

Wagoner didn’t give specifics about when the Provoq will be available or how much will cost.

It was the first unveiling of a concept car at CES, but Wagoner said the venue for his speech was apt because of the way GM is using “electronics to reinvent the automobile.”

“If the automobile were invented today, I’m pretty sure it would debut right here at CES,” he said.

Apparently trying to fit the groove, he played Scott McNealy and threw in a Bill Gates joke. He said Gates and Michael Dell were at CES arguing with show boss Gary Shapiro over whether the Earth was flat or round. God weighed in from above, saying Shapiro is right and the world is round and the fight appeared over.

“Not so fast, said Gates — now it’s two against two,” Wagoner said, then added “just kidding, Bill.”

Equally provocative were several topics he covered earlier in the speech, including a pitch for huge investment in ethanol production and future additions to the OnStar telematics system on GM cars.

After talking up the way OnStar has helped injured and stranded motorists and now sends more detailed crash information to emergency responders, he touched on more contoversial new features such as the ability of police to ask OnStar to override a driver’s control and slow vehicles reported stolen.

Now GM’s working on having the system communicate with other GM cars in the vicinity to reduce accidents. If a car a quarter mile ahead were to brake suddenly, the “V2V” vehicle-to-vehicle communication system could automatically start braking.

Eventually we’ll have self-driving cars, expanding on technology that GM and Carnegie used to win the DARPA robotic car challenge in November, but it makes me want to hoard used vehicles that are fully under the control of the driver.

Here’s a crowds-eye view of the Provoq:

IMGA0067.JPG

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