After attending last year’s Detroit Auto Show, I wrote that CES can’t replace traditional auto shows just yet. But after spending the last few days at CES in Las Vegas, I’m ready to reverse that position (somewhat).
At CES 2017, a critical mass of auto makers and major suppliers unveiled several new concepts, a ton of new technology, and arguably stole the show from traditional electronics companies. And that CES occurs on the cusp of the show in Detroit—which starts next week and is the premier auto show in the US and one of the biggest in the world—only underscores how the Vegas extravaganza draws attention away from Detroit and the LA Auto Show that precedes it.
As CES’ prominence grows among car companies, auto shows are trying to attract more media and money through exhibitors and sponsors with their own tech-focused events. But even the brand that onced touted “Imported in Detroit” as its tagline chose Vegas over the Motor City to roll out a cool new concept.
A Minivan for Millennials
Chrysler, the originator of the much-maligned minivan, unveiled a people-hauler concept called Portal that the auto maker said is designed for millennials who will soon need to cart around their progeny.
To appeal to the tech-savvy group, the all-electric self-driving minivan concept is packed with tech features such as eight docking stations for portable devices and a screen above the second-row seats that allows passengers to share music and videos or even place individual orders for takeout.
Toyota also used CES to reveal its cool new Concept-i equipped with an artificial intelligence UX interface called Yui that “lives” in the dashboard. The driver interacts with this AI copilot via an animated avatar, and the interface can move around the car and appear on various screens.
Other major announcements from automakers included a Nissan partnership with Microsoft to integrate Cortana in its cars, Nvidia’s unveiling of a new self-driving supercomputer, and BMW, IBM and camera maker Mobileye’s plans to put 40 self-driving vehicles on public roads by the end of the year. These announcements are all tailor-made for CES—and the kind of car-centric tech that auto shows are now trying to attract.
Next week, the Detroit Auto Show will debut a new AutoMobili-D showcase, and in November the LA Auto Show rechristened its Connected Car Expo AutoMobility LA. And, yes, they are pronounced pretty much the same. Both are designed to showcase technologies ranging from ride-sharing to autonomous driving as the auto industry is being transformed by technology, but on a much smaller scale than CES. And they mostly attract the usual crowd of automotive press, and not the huge contingent of tech and international media that descends of Las Vegas each January.
Auto shows are essentially where the industry goes to do the business of moving the metal and are in no way endangered by CES. Even with these technology sideshows, I don’t expect auto shows will steal any thunder from CES, but CES will likely become increasingly important to car companies.