For the first time this year, buyers of some of the best-selling cars on the market will be greeted by a familiar logo when they get behind the wheel. And it won’t just be the automakers’.

From the Honda Accord to the Ford F-150, vehicles across the country are adding support for in-car entertainment systems designed by Google and Apple. Their slick software interfaces allow drivers to make phone calls, pull up maps or directions, and even summon streaming music – using the same recognizable look and feel of an iPhone or Android device.

The move by automakers to concede the technological centerpiece of a vehicle’s dashboard did not come quickly or painlessly for Detroit engineers who have long prided themselves on their ability to understand what consumers want from their cars. Even more unnerving to some is that Google and Apple soon may be releasing cars of their own.

Apple and Google have each received pledges from roughly 40 automakers to work with their technology. Yet even as executives from either industry shake hands over these partnerships, there’s a clear undercurrent of tension in the alliance between Detroit and Silicon Valley.

Many of these tech firms are also launching projects – from driverless fleets to ride-sharing models such as Uber – that are expected to disrupt the basic business of buying or leasing a car.

“Carmakers are definitely worried that their business model is going to be seriously threatened in the next 10 years,” said Karl Brauer, analyst at Kelley Blue Book.


Added a senior auto industry executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely: “It’s interesting to see how Silicon Valley looks at us, and that’s as one word – prey.”

In the face of disruptive projects emerging out West, carmakers are racing to bolster their technology prowess. At the nation’s biggest consumer electronics show last week and at the Detroit Auto Show this week, some of these companies are recasting the industrial image that has defined them for decades.

Gill Pratt, the new chief executive officer of the Toyota Research Institute, said that robotics could be a major business for Toyota in the future, and perhaps eventually its primary focus.

“The old joke is that Toyota is the world’s best manufacturing company. They just happen to make cars. Times have changed, and software and data are now essential components of Toyota’s future mobility strategy,” he said. “It is entirely possible that robots will become for today’s Toyota what the car industry was when Toyota made looms.”

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