DETROIT – It was gee-whiz stuff in the early 1980s: laser-guided gauging systems that could "look" at a vehicle body at the end of the assembly line and compare its tolerances to the ideal, assuring that the vehicle was being assembled within specification. Since then, the auto industry has witnessed hundreds of similar process-control and assembly miracles, as electronic/optical/laser innovations came fast and hard with the advent of inexpensive electronics and dizzyingly dropping prices ...

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