The convergence of consumer electronics and automotive technology is undeniable – and unstoppable. The car can no longer be the Internet black spot that it has for so long been; consumers will not accept it, OEMs are doing everything they can to enable connectivity, and a host of third parties are lining up to identify and exploit its commercial potential, from infotainment providers to insurance companies and even national and regional authorities.
Every year, International CES, the consumer electronics show held in January in Las Vegas, becomes steadily more ‘automotive’. Indeed, the 2015 edition hosted ten OEMs over a floor space reportedly 20% larger than in 2014 – and there were many more Tier 1 automotive suppliers exhibiting than in previous years. The event, which in 2015 welcomed a record 176,676 visitors, enjoys widespread mainstream media coverage and most of the column inches about CES 2015 highlighted the developments in automotive technology; not just connected cars and autonomous drive technology, but also the car’s place within the Internet of Things, over the air (OTA) software updates, data analytics, cyber security and data protection, wearable tech and voice and gesture control.
With a calendar of automotive trade shows to choose from, why is CES so attractive to the automotive industry? “The amount of automotive technology here is tremendous, and it grows every year,” says Walter Sullivan, Head of Elektrobit’s new Innovation Lab in San Jose. “The difference between here and the Detroit Auto Show is that the focus of the car companies here is on the technology that’s in the car. At the Detroit Auto Show, it’s more about the car itself – the design of the car and the efficiency of the powertrain.”
Ironically, adds Martin Schleicher, Vice President Strategy and Key Partnerships at Elektrobit Automotive, it’s also easier to meet German customers at the Las Vegas event than to drive across Germany to visit them. “Everybody we want to work with, and everybody we do work with, is here. Even though we’re not a consumer facing company, this show gives us the opportunity to meet and talk to our customers. We can engage with all of those car companies.”
“We participate in several trade shows throughout the year, but from a pure customer engagement standpoint, CES is probably the most valuable trade show to be at,” says Sullivan. “And being here as an exhibitor also shows your state of the art in terms of technology, what you’re doing, and your innovations. Our being here has been very well received by our customers,” adds Schleicher.
Broadcom is a regular at CES; it is also a founding member of the OPEN Alliance, a special interest group (SIG) established to encourage wide-scale adoption of Ethernet-based automotive applications. “Five years ago, we had no interaction with car customers in general and no reason to talk to them, because we didn’t do automotive products and they didn’t care what we made. Now we see the exact opposite happening,” Scott McGregor, President and Chief Executive of Broadcom, tells Megatrends. “CES is a very important show for us. We have quite a number of the major automotive manufacturers coming to talk with us here at the show, to discuss taking the technology you see here for the living room and understanding how to get that into the car. Why should you settle for lower quality content in your car than you have in your living room?”
CES is also a major event in the calendar for infotainment supplier Harman, which hosts a booth at the event highlighting its home entertainment and automotive technologies. “CES has become our biggest automotive show,” says Dinesh Paliwal, Harman’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive. “We go to Geneva, Shanghai, Frankfurt and other shows, but this is the biggest because almost every automaker is here. Every automaker has spent time with us and we have all our infotainment and car audio and our software suite of services fully in demonstration mode here. At other shows, we may not have as much space to do that.”
Although popularly known as the show where tech giants launch new phones and tablets, drones and ever-higher definition TVs and curved screens, look more closely and you’ll find the tech behind the tech. Michigan-headquartered TRW has traditionally been viewed as a safety company, supplying products that consumers cannot see and hope to never use, like airbags and other safety equipment. In recent years, it has broadened its electronics technology offerings to include not only advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) technology that ties in with everyday consumer features and benefits that drivers use, like Adaptive Cruise Control – and it’s looking to the future with a suite of semi- and fully-autonomous drive solutions.
“As we move into automated driving, the automated driving systems use those safety building blocks that are TRW’s area of expertise,” explains Andy Whydell, the company’s Director Product Planning for Global Electronics. “But this isn’t something that you use once a year or hope to never use, it’s something you want to use every day. So the products that we’re working on are going to be interacting much more than ever with consumers.” CES, he says, is a way for TRW to communicate directly with consumers and show them some of the technologies it is developing. “It’s also an opportunity for us to listen and get some ideas. And as we get further down the road into automated driving, we need to get an understanding of what people are looking for and what their expectations are.”
Tim Yerdon, Global Director of Innovation and Design at Visteon, describes the place of a supplier of automotive electronics technology as being positioned somewhere between the automotive industry and the consumer electronics industry. He likens it to three cogs moving at different speeds: “The auto industry is spinning on a four-year cycle. The consumer electronics wheel spins about eight times faster, and every six months or so there is usually a new product out. We are somewhere in the middle. We have to mesh this and take the best of the consumer world into automotive, and ensure the expected levels of robustness and reliability.
“We are building in headroom with the microprocessor and the electronics in order to future proof some of these products,” says Yerdon. Visteon claims to be the number 1 supplier of displays, number 2 in driver information and number 3 in cockpit electronics. “In terms of display technology, we have had programmes where, over the three-year development cycle, the display spec has changed four times to higher-resolution displays. This of course affects other graphics and processing speeds. We are really starting to get much better at the prediction side of future proofing technology, and tying that hardware future proofing together with the potential for over the air software updates.”
If the show hadn’t already secured its place in the global automotive industry events calendar, then the 2015 edition of CES, the ‘car electronics show’, did just that. With cars on the stands of non-traditional automotive companies – Intel had a Jaguar F-Type, Panasonic hosted the unexpected appearance of the Tesla Model X – CES 2015 became the world’s most car-focused non-car show. There might be a case for a separate ‘automotive CES’, but that’s a selfish automotive insider’s view; a key part of the show’s attraction to OEMs and suppliers is the wide range of offerings at the show, and the wider CE industry’s emphasis on the car’s place within the Internet of Everything.