The car show has been totally upended.
The massive North American International Auto Show — traditionally the most important auto show of the year — kicks off next week in Detroit.
But before that even gets off the ground, the world’s major automakers are going
put themselves on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), in Las Vegas.
And the show this week is arguably the more interesting of the two.
In addition to the impressive 2015 US auto sales story, the year that just concluded saw a significant convergence of technology and transportation: self-driving features; enhanced wireless connectivity; technologically enabled car-hire services; and the advent of Google as an automaker.
The tech cometh
The major automakers are taking this very seriously and have ramped up their CES presence so that they’re not left out of the conversation about how tech is transforming mobility. Already, to coincide with the start of CES, General Motors and ride-sharing app Lyft announced a partnership to develop self driving cars.
CES is conveniently scheduled between the first major US auto show of the season, in Los Angeles, and the big one in Detroit. And while both LA and Motown are important, CES has been steadily demonstrating that it’s where much of real action is in the auto industry, especially as infotainment, connectivity, and new models of getting around emerge.
For a while, the auto industry resisted this. But over the past five years or so, and especially following CES last year, the traditional car makers have concluded that at a level they, too, are technology companies — and that as manufacturers of a hugely popular rolling technology platform, they should get much better at understanding what happens when you put “consumer” and “electronics” together and let Silicon Valley supercharge the undertaking.
For example, on Monday all eyes will be on Faraday Future, a secretive startup mobility company, based in California, that plans to reinvent how we get around and will pull the cover off a concept car.
Last year, Audi sent a self-driving car from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and BMW showcased an exotic automous vehicle that effectively did away with the front seat and indulged in some serious sci-fi styling.
Undeniably, the pace of progress is speeding up. If you sit in a car that’s over a decade old, you can experience the change — vividly. New cars today feature advanced infotainment systems, wireless high-speed connectivity, and an evolving suite of semi-autonomous driving features — frills that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
A brave new world
A decade from now, cars may be capable of driving themselves under controlled circumstances. Tesla, GM, and several other automakers are already rolling out cars that have semi-self-driving features.
Connectivity will be a given, and major tech companies, including Apple and Google, will provide some of the infotainment interfaces. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is already becoming common in vehicles from GM and soon will be from Ford.
CES is now where all this is breaking.
Savvy auto and tech executives alike know this and are making what was formerly an event that baffled and disoriented the car companies into a showcase for the swiftly developing partnership between the Silicon Valley and the car-making capitals of the globe.