Auto industry continues speeding into the future

Annual show in Detroit, open now through this coming weekend, is worth the trip

Last week was Press Preview for journalists (yours truly included) at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The show, which opened to the public on Saturday morning, runs through this coming weekend and organizers (the event is owned by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association) anticipate a paid attendance number close to the 800,000+ from last year.

Coming from the perspective of someone who’s been regularly attending for near 20 years, the show continues to live up to its intended purpose, which is to give those in the market for a new vehicle (car or truck) a highly efficient way to check out the vast majority of brands that they might be considering for their next purchase.

Companies who track these sorts of things, Foresight Research among them, estimate that about half the people who attend an auto show say they plan on buying within the next 12 months.

But let’s get back to this year’s event for a moment. I’m asked “what’s new?” and “what stood out?” among the litany of vehicles on display.

The easy one-word answer to both is: “lots”

Automakers clearly have come to understand how demanding the market for their products has become over the years, and how the power of competition and the focus on innovation (not to mention government standards for fuel efficiency) are defining what’s available in the market.

Increasingly, most of the vehicles on display are “connected”—with not only “plain vanilla” Bluetooth on board as the standard offering but device specific choices (CarPlay for Apple fans as well as Android Auto for the other side of the platform wars).

Consider those the “minimum” standard for vehicles.

Race legend Mario Andretti (left) was interviewed on a live webcast last Tuesday, Jan. 16, by host Tim Stevens.
Ford has brought one of two Mustangs used in the filming of Bullitt, the Steve McQueen classic. The automaker is coming out with a limited edition homage to the vehicle.

What tends to stand out are the features that reduce the chance of a vehicle becoming involved in an accident, a category that’s referred to in the industry as ADAS—Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems.

These are the features that warn a driver when the vehicle is “drifting” into another lane, or another vehicle may be in a “blind spot” (all vehicles pretty much have at least one), and even systems that will (through some form of radar detection) automatically apply the brakes if the driver appears to be in danger of running into the back of the car ahead.

You’ll be seeing more and more of these features—some at a premium over the base—as you wander the Cobo Center aisles.

My guess, based on past experience, is that these features will become commonplace, as consumers demand them (the threat being, of course, that they’ll buy from automakers who offer those features) or, quite possibly, governments make them mandatory.

An example of this is the Canadian government’s mandating of backup cameras on any new vehicle sold after May 2018.

The “what stood out” part of the discussion is around what is likely the “next big thing”—autonomous (self-drive) vehicles.

In a sidebar to the auto show, AutoMobili-D, a “show within a show” at Cobo (located on the lower level and which was open to public visitors this past Saturday and Sunday) focused on what automakers and their suppliers are working on to make “no driver aboard” a reality.

The takeaway from my perspective? The industry is finding out how difficult it will be (challenging but not impossible) to replace humans with what is essentially a supercomputer able to weave through a myriad of traffic scenarios.

But it’s coming. Have fun if you’re able to attend this year’s North American International Auto Show. It’s worth the ticket and the trip.

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