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COMMENT: Time to rethink the auto show concept?

BY MARTIN KAHL. CES 2016 and Detroit 2016 have just added to the debate about the significance of the traditional auto show

Cars at the heart of a consumer tech show, and consumer tech at the heart of a car show – the convergence of consumer electronics and automotive product development could hardly be more clearly underlined than at CES and NAIAS, which now firmly feature in the first two weeks of the automotive calendar.

We hear so much about the death of car ownership, but we’re a long way from losing interest in cars – although the automotive industry is preparing for a time when people might not drive those cars.

Public reaction to autonomous driving is one of the hurdles the industry needs to overcome – if consumers don’t want it, it’s of little importance how far the technology advances

Autonomous driving is being talked about everywhere. Whether they like it or not, OEMs are faced with an option: assume it’s happening, and try to take leadership, or reluctantly accept that it’s happening, and get pulled along. If you’re an OEM not talking about autonomous driving, be ready to explain why.

How close we are to seeing autonomous drive technology on the roads depends on who is talking about it, and how they define it. Public reaction to autonomous driving is one of the hurdles the industry needs to overcome – if consumers don’t want it, it’s of little importance how far the technology advances. Mainstream discussions about the technology on display at CES have generally centred on autonomous driving. The hurdle is still there, but it’s wobbling and looking a little less threatening.

Autonomous driving is of course not new; that it’s a major CES talking point highlights the fact that the show this year was less about groundbreaking new technology, and more about incremental developments of existing products and ideas – something that rang true for automotive and non-automotive technology alike.

CES 2016 and Detroit 2016 have just added to the debate about the significance of the traditional auto show

Meanwhile, back in Detroit…

The Cobo Center this week plays host to the Detroit auto show, which features the US domestics alongside the big Japanese and Korean OEMs, and some of the Europeans. Debuts include the Volvo S90, Infiniti Q60, Lexus LC 500, Genesis G90, Honda Ridgeline pick-up, the Chinese-built Buick Envision, the Chrysler Pacifica and the understated return of the Lincoln Continental. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is officially unveiled for the first time, although it had already appeared at CES, where GM also launched the production version of the Chevrolet Bolt.

Following a spectacular Detroit show in 2015 that lifted the curtain on a record sales year in the US, it’s a little uninspiring to start 2016 with a Detroit auto show where the headlines are stolen not by exciting new production cars but concepts like the otherwise spectacular Buick Avista and Acura Precision. With OEMs choosing to launch their cars at carefully selected non-traditional automotive events, CES 2016 and Detroit 2016 have just added to the debate about the significance of the traditional auto show.

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Martin Kahl is Editor, Automotive World

The AutomotiveWorld.com Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact editorial@automotiveworld.com

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