The 2018 automotive year kicks off with the most important trade fairs in the US. Along with the traditional Detroit Auto Show, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has become a showcase for the automotive industry. Once an exhibition for car radios, the spotlight is now on robocars and the networked traffic.
The auditorium in the luxury hotel in the middle of Las Vegas is filled when the lights go down. After a slight pause, a futuristic vehicle breaks through the stage fog and drives onto the stage. Suddenly the lights go up and Gary Shapiro climbs out of a German luxury vehicle. Shapiro heads the Consumer Technology Association, the host of the annual CES. The scene from 2015 marks a milestone in the history of the fair, which was founded over 50 years ago as a purchasing fair for consumer electronics. It is held in early January, just as buyers have the Christmas season behind them and they prepare to make their purchases for the coming year.
Automotive products were part of the trade show from the very start. Car radios were first shown, followed by entertainment centers with massive speakers. The high-decibel faction is still on the edges of the hall where numerous well-known automotive manufacturers and suppliers present man-machine interfaces, driver assistance systems and prototypes for fully autonomous vehicles. Futuristic technology in its purest form. A company from Silicon Valley started it all when it came here in 2006. Back then a German filing a travel authorization request for Las Vegas would have been met with puzzlement or worse. Google co-founder Larry Page held the keynote address.
However, he did more than praise algorithms when he had an autonomous vehicle drive on stage. The vehicle was a Volkswagen Tuareg customized by Stanford University scientists and named Stanley. The artificial intelligence experts used the car to win a competition in 2005, when driverless cars had to perform a series of tasks in the Nevada desert. Page was not able to explain what the autonomous vehicle had to do with Google but he thought the technology was “cool” and dreamed of making self-driving cars for everyday life. Google invested billions in the technology and is challenging the entire automotive industry. CES has now grown to reflect the massive change. Despite their initial skepticism, more and more automakers and suppliers have been attending the trade show, even Germans. They started by presenting series-production ready systems for semi-autonomous driving, but IT analyst Thilo Koslowski realized years ago that the cars of the future would be much more innovative and cooler than smartphones. Cars are better networked and offer far more opportunities for exciting electronic user experiences. Numerous studies and concept cars with innovative technologies were presented in Las Vegas. The focus is now on the future of digitalization, connectivity or futuristic control elements.
Almost all automotive innovations nowadays are directly or indirectly linked to electronics. Small wonder that the IT industry now uses the CES as a platform to meet with the automotive industry. Chip manufacturer Nvidia is one of the best examples of the changes; the company now focuses entirely on the automotive industry and has moved away from the market for graphics cards. In 2016, the company presented a processor designed to provide super-computing capacity in cars. At the same show, suppliers showed how they wanted to link the automobile of the future to homes and traffic infrastructure.
CES is the world's gathering place for all those who thrive on the business of consumer technologies.
Now about 1 in 5 exhibitors are from the automotive industry. The automotive industry was present with 140 companies occupying 20,000 square meters of floor space in 2017. “In previous years, people mainly discussed concepts and ideas, now they focus on getting products quickly into production,” says Accenture analyst Luca Mentuccia and her estimate can also be seen in market volume. Analysts from the Boston Consulting Group predict the overall market will be valued at 42 billion dollars by 2025.
More than 400 exhibitors from the automotive sector have registered for the CES 2018, almost three times as many as last year. The sharp rise stems from the increase in the number of smaller specialty companies and service providers coming to Las Vegas alongside the larger automotive manufacturers and parts suppliers. The big automotive brands are now more focused on technology than new vehicle models. Mercedes Benz presented a new generation of infotainment systems using artificial intelligence. ZF is also focused on artificial intelligence: the parts supplier loads data from on-site test drives into the control device of a highly automated vehicle to demonstrate how machine learning works. Honda is taking yet another step toward autonomous systems with their Series 3E robots, which can be used both in households and on rugged terrain.
At first glance, the theme of the 2018 CES, Smart Cities, has nothing to do with cars. The concept of the fully networked city has been gaining momentum, ever since Apple and Google revealed they would be building their own experimental cities. Cars – particularly in the form of self-driving robotaxis – are part of life in the networked city. “The Smart Cities sector is experiencing tremendous dynamism and will have a massive influence on new technologies along with politics, transportation and municipal governments,” says Shapiro, the head of the show, when discussing the initiative.