After the internet for people, the next big thing has always been said to be the "Internet of things", like a fridge automatically alerting you when the milk is about to run out.

Now a number of car companies are working on a sort of "Internet of cars". Ford, for example, is supplying 20 S-Max models to a four-year German study of car-to-car communication, to develop features such as networked emergency braking. In this scenario, if a car goes around a corner and the driver has to brake hard, perhaps because there is a parked car, a message will automatically be sent to following cars, which will be primed to brake. Similarly, a car encountering an obstacle will automatically warn the car behind.

Ford is taking a lead in this field because it sees electronics as a key differentiator in future. Ford's boss, Alan Mullaly, comes from Boeing and is convinced that that having the most advanced electronics will be a major advantage. He even skipped the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, Europe's most important, in favour of making a speech at a consumer electronics fair instead. His view is that a car will become essentially a self-propelled electronics network, so the leader in electronics will become the leader in cars.