CES is the future of automotive trade shows

But some might argue that CES is more swagger than sweat, more promise than delivery.


I have seen the future of automotive trade shows … and it’s called CES.

Yeah, I am appropriating one of the more famous lines in rock journalism (John Landau’s take on the coming of Bruce Springsteen in the ’70s) for the relatively uncool world of car exhibits. But the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas calls for it.

In recent years, the annual Las Vegas event has emerged as one hot gig. Even for automotive — in fact, especially for automotive.

This year, more than ever, CES completely overshadowed the erstwhile industry standard — the Detroit Auto Show.

The buzz from Motown was nowhere near as deafening as the one from Sin City. CES not only had the cooler cars but also packed enough digital oomph to turn on R2D2. CES showcased a Faraday Future concept car. Detroit named Honda Civic — seriously? — North American Car of the Year.

Who won? You do the math.

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No, Detroit is not fading away. It’s still pretty darn important in the scheme of things, but both these shows once again highlighted the two parallel forces working in the auto industry right now.

One’s the traditional, appealing more to transactional business. What models will come out next year? How will they look? What are the differentiators? If you are a dealer, Detroit’s the name of the game.

But if you are a CEO, automotive or otherwise, you can’t skip CES. I am not underestimating the role of new materials and platform improvements in cars, but the Las Vegas show provides a true glimpse of the future — where I believe the real corporate and product battles will be fought.

Take Faraday Future, for instance. It might be difficult to cut through the hype of its hysteria-inducing electric supercar concept, but let’s put aside the actual metal for once. If some of the reports about this Chinese-billionaire-backed company are true, Faraday Future is aiming not just for a Bond-mobile, but the very nature of how cars are bought and sold.

Apparently, the Gardena, Calif.-based company may not even sell its cars, but rather let customers use them on a subscription mobility model.

Fancy name for a lease? Tom-ay-to, Tum-ah-to? Maybe.

But it could go beyond that — kind of like a Zipcar meets a lease. There could more flexibility — for a tiered, monthly flat price, a driver could potentially access a given range of cars.

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Think of this scenario — for a monthly payment of $500, you could have access to two types of cars in a given year. Let’s say, an SUV and a sedan. One you drive in the summer, one in winter. For another $100 a month, maybe you get access to a luxury vehicle for a month every year.

Yes, it would require a complete reimagining of our current car sales models, but believe me, automakers are beginning to think along these lines.

There were other CES highlights that could be equally disruptive. Ford announced that it would use Amazon’s cloud-based virtual-assistant, Alexa, to connect cars with homes. So, technically, you could warm up or cool down the house a bit during your evening commute through a voice-command.

Similarly, chipmaker NVidia introduced a new processor for vehicles that could be as powerful as 150 Macbook Pros and would go a long way in turning all the autonomous dreams into reality.

Some might argue that CES is more swagger than sweat, more promise than delivery.

But, hey, even if it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, I still like it.

Kumar Saha is a Toronto-based automotive analyst with the global research firm Frost & Sullivan. More of his work can be found online at . To reach him, email and put his name in the subject line.

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