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The auto industry gets connected at CES 2012

There is only one way to approach the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and that’s with a carefully prepared game plan. Occupying the whole of the vast Las Vegas Convention Centre site plus space in a couple of adjacent hotels, and with 2,700 exhibitors, the CES is the kind of event where it’s all too easy for anyone who doesn’t know where they are going to spend time wandering aimlessly.

The show attracts 140,000 business owners, buyers, investors, analysts and media from the consumer electronics industry, and this year there were more than 250 educational sessions addressed by prominent industry leaders, including Ford Chief Executive Alan Mullally. An access-all-areas pass to these seminars costs US$1500.

Despite North America’s love for gasoline and the V8 (or maybe the V6 in these tougher times), CES played host to a number of charging station options for electric cars.

The automotive industry’s presence at CES is relatively small when looked at in the context of the overall show, but growing in size and importance every year. That much was certainly evident at Kia, which used the event to launch the next generation of UVO, ‘eServices’, and for the global debut of its User-Centred Driver (UCD) concept – a connectivity package which, at this stage, exists only in a couple of interior mock-ups. UCD was shown in the Naimo EV concept alongside the Ray EV, Kia’s first production EV. Daimler and Google announced an extension of their cloud-based apps partnership, and Mercedes-Benz had its updated connectivity system, mbrace2, which will appear for the first time in the new SL. Verizon and OnStar launched a connected research concept car, while Ford showcased improvements to its Sync and MyFord Touch systems, plus cloud computing and networking ideas still at the research and development stage. There was little new at Audi, but what’s already on offer in the A6 and A8 will be in the next A3, and was on display in an interior styling buck.

With in-car connectivity controlled through smartphones now a major topic at practically every new car introduction, it was perhaps appropriate that most of the automotive industry stands were in the same hall as aisle after aisle of exhibitors showing functional, entertaining and bizarre accessories for the iPhone and iPad. All that was missing was Apple itself.

Suppliers which provide many automotive OEMs with expensive upmarket hi-fi and navigation systems were there in force, as were the companies which offer aftermarket alternatives for a much lower price.

While its presence at the show may currently be fairly limited, the automotive industry is clearly taking the CES seriously.

And despite North America’s love for gasoline and the V8 (or maybe the V6 in these tougher times), CES played host to a number of charging station options for electric cars. This was one of the many technologies being demonstrated by Delphi, and also by Qualcomm, which acquired the company behind it – HaloIPT – only last November. A two-year trial of the system will begin in London later this year, involving 50 electric cars, with a view to offering it to OEMs some time in 2014.

So, while its presence at the show may currently be fairly limited, the automotive industry is clearly taking the CES seriously.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Roger Stansfield is a freelance automotive industry journalist based in London. He covers all aspects of the automotive industry, with a particular focus on future technology.

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