But the fragile infrastructure needed to deliver a potential blizzard of information to autos -- e-mail, stock quotes, maps, traffic alerts and much more -- is mainly a technical issue.
Much thornier is the looming showdown over distracted driving.
In one corner: public safety and the government.
In the other corner: social media, Internet radio and applications -- and all the automakers and suppliers eager to satisfy drivers' cravings for information.
In other words, what the aftermarket brings, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood threatens to take back.
"People are just hungry for communication and information," says Peter Steiner, Audi AG's head of infotainment, who helped lead the automaker's first significant appearance at the show this year.
Audi, for one, is trying to stay ahead of the game by investing heavily in global customer clinics to see what causes distraction, studying the brains of drivers to see what makes them take their minds off the road.
"Can we allow a certain device during driving? Can they handle a situation or not? We judge all of that," Steiner says.
Audi also is working with Google to develop Audi's own "app pool" of safe technology.
"We want to prevent the situation where the government needs to regulate us," Steiner says. "We want to keep it to ourselves."
Others are following suit. Mini, Mercedes, Toyota, Hyundai, Ford and GM all used the show to display leading-edge features and devices, such as in-dash applications and high-powered computer chips. But at the same time, they all want to avoid distraction.