With the Detroit Auto Show struggling, CES, even more than in recent years, is stepping up its automotive game.

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At CES, BMW will offer virtual test drives in its iNext concept for future mobility (Photo: BMW)

Though no major keynotes by auto-company CEOs have been announced to date, the number of companies preparing to show cars or car-related products at the annual consumer electronics gathering in Las Vegas seems to have grown exponentially.

And with virtually all major automotive brands, tier suppliers, mobility startups and auto-tech companies present, what do you get? An auto show with a clear focus on the transformative technologies that are redefining what the car industry is all about.

At the world’s largest consumer technology show, which officially kicks off with a press day January 7, automakers and suppliers will make clear their ambition to lead the IT driven transformation of their industry now underway.

That’s no surprise for two reasons. One is that competition from non-automotive newcomers from the tech sector and other industries has been heating up, forcing traditional players to accelerate investments in core new technologies such as connected car, electrification, artificial intelligence and data.

The other is that the auto industry, in the not-too-distant future, will have to make its money with totally new forms of mobility. The old model of car ownership is in decline and automakers and suppliers have to rely on alternative sources of revenue to survive and thrive.

“There’s widespread recognition that the value is shifting to services and data,” says Strategy Analytics consultant Roger Lanctot.

Connected-car sales to triple

A look at projections for growth in digital car-related technologies and systems makes clear why a consumer electronics fair such as CES has increasing relevance to the car industry.

Global automotive display volume, for example, will double between 2016 and 2023 to 21.2 billion dollars, according to IHS Markit. Worldwide sales of connected cars will almost triple to 72.5 million units from 24 million in 2015.

Connected cars, of course, depend on technologies that, until recently, played only a minor role in the auto industry. Sensor systems, radar and lidar, visualization, augmented reality and 5G connectivity are quickly becoming essential to future personal mobility. And, with many of the new technologies, the IT and consumer electronics industries continue to drive the innovation that the auto industry urgently needs.

“Automotive is at a pivotal moment in which traditional products and parts are evolving and cloud computing, artificial intelligence and V2X are the future,” said Bill Foy, senior vice president, engineering, at Denso International America.

Driverless cars, which are set to come sometime in the next decade, also are a driver of growth, specifically in car interiors, which will become an even more important competitive battleground once even the driver will have time on his hands while en route. Autonomous cars open up possibilities for whole new business models.

IHS Market projects that 33.6 million Level 4 or 5 autonomous vehicles will be sold globally by 2040. The technologies powering these driverless cars will, almost without exception, be new and much different from what has been industry standard for more than 100 years.

Big automaker presence

At CES, the automotive focus will be on connected cars, electrification, autonomous driving, data, the upgrading of car interiors and the new business models the industry is developing for the new mobility era.

Screen-Shot-2018-12-20-at-09.37.19. Kia will illustrate its ‘emotive driving’ concept at CES (Photo: Kia)

Among automakers, Kia Motors will, for example, show a new technology that will allow a vehicle to automatically adapt its cabin to a driver’s emotional state. The Korean car brand said its real-time emotion adaptive driving (READ) technology is designed for an era when driverless cars will be the norm on the world’s roads.

Japan’s Honda promises to showcase “a variety of mobility, robotics, energy management and connected concepts.”

The German carmakers also are planning an ambitious presence in Las Vegas. Audi will focus on infotainment, and will show “how a car ride can turn into a digital entertainment experience.”

BMW will offer virtual test drives in its BMW Vision iNEXT, the premium car group’s concept for tomorrow’s personal mobility.

And Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz is – almost – treating CES like a regular top-tier auto show by staging the world premiere of the new CLA coupe.

In addition, Mercedes will show an upgraded version of its MBUX infotainment system and it will showcase its battery-electric EQC model as well as a network-compatible mobility concept called “Urbanetic.”

Tier 1 suppliers take on new role

luxoft-snap-300x201 Luxoft, together with design company Rinspeed, will showcase “microSNAP”, an autonomous mobility concept for personalized digital lifestyles (Photo: Luxoft)

Among tier 1 suppliers, Robert Bosch, the world’s largest component and systems maker for the car industry, will debut a new concept shuttle. “Bosch is developing a unique package of hardware, software and mobility services for shuttle mobility of the future,” Bosch management board member Markus Heyn said in a statement.

Continental will show a series of future city technologies at CES, including a demonstration version of its Intelligent Intersection solution.

Denso is showcasing a range of technologies, from cyber security applications to cloud connectivity. They are part of the Japanese supplier’s recent strategy to move more forcefully into software-based offerings to complement traditional hardware.

Schaeffler promises it will unveil “innovations for mobility for tomorrow,” including the world premiere of a bio-hybrid vehicle for personal urban mobility.

Magna says it will show “the intersection of electrification, autonomy and smart mobility.” The Canadian supplier’s goal is to help customers “change the entire vehicle experience, not just a few components,” Magna CTO Swamy Kotagiri said

French interiors specialist Faurecia will show further refinements of its “cockpit of the future,” which will offer far-reaching personalization and intuitive interaction between occupants and the vehicle.

Veoneer, one of the companies that resulted from a corporate restructuring at Swedish safety specialist Autoliv, offers test drives in “LIV,” which it calls “the next generation learning intelligent vehicle.”

Engineering services specialist Luxoft will have a show car concept with “immersive autonomous mobility.”

CES will feature a who’s who of well known and lesser known players in the global auto industry. They will be complemented by a wide range of high-tech startups. which in recent years have started using CES as the stage for formally presenting their plans to the world.

CES, which runs through Friday, January 11, has gained in importance for the global auto industry as the Detroit Auto Show has struggled to stay relevant. Traditionally, Detroit took place the week after CES and this will also be the case in 2019. In 2020, however, in response to declining interest among major international car brands, the show will move to the summer.

More than 180,000 people attended the Las Vegas CES in January 2018. The 2019 version will feature more than 4,400 exhibiting companies across 2.7 million net square feet of exhibition space.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organizes the annual event, says that, last year, more than 1,000 startup companies were present.