Another concern for the industry -- and the auto show -- is a millennial generation that has been slow to embrace car ownership and seems more interested in technology than torque. While experts say millennials have begun buying new cars in greater numbers, they remain a wild card in the long-term future of the industry.
"They're active in the market and they'll overtake the baby boomers in the coming years," Krebs said. "But they may well be the generation that forgoes a second or third vehicle. They are much more open to the idea of sharing and autonomous."
The auto show circa 2018 will feature lots of crossover vehicles, a growth area for the industry as sales of the traditional sedan continue to slip.
Technology will also be on display, an extension of the omnipresent connectivity that extends from smartphones to washing machines. Cars are becoming smarter, gaining everything from the ability to park themselves and avoid accidents to seamless integration that turns a vehicle into a 3,000-pound mobile device.
"The automakers have done such a good job making their displays interactive and trying to help consumers understand about this new technology that's coming online," Sloan said.
Fully autonomous vehicles -- the ultimate technological innovation -- are still in test mode and are several years away from hitting the roads, but automakers are gearing up for early adopters, primarily in fleets such as taxi and ride-sharing services.
The technology employs an array of sensors to see the road and surroundings, feeding the data to a central computer that makes split-second decisions about steering, accelerating and braking.
Proponents say it is safer than letting people do the driving, eliminating hazards such as road rage and distractions, which can lead to accidents.
Fiat Chrysler began partnering with Waymo in 2016, and unlike Ford and GM, is not investing in the development of its own autonomous vehicle technology.
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