A common refrain heard within the last week was that CES is the new auto show. Not quite. Sure, the Las Vegas gadget extravaganza has become a popular platform for car companies to unveil new technology, but traditional auto shows are still the place they choose to show off their latest sheet metal marvels.
CES has been able to steal some of that thunder: In Las Vegas this year GM pulled the covers off of the production Chevy Bolt, while Mercedes-Benz bowed the new autonomous-ready E-Class ahead of its Detroit debut. But a week later, the North American International Auto Show—aka the Detroit Auto Show and the premier event of its type in the U.S.—per usual was the place to see the hottest concepts and newest models from a majority of automakers.
And while the Detroit show is usually a letdown after CES in terms of technology, this year NAIAS didn’t disappoint, and several significant innovations were introduced by Ford on its home turf as well as by Acura, Nissan, and Toyota.
As an extension of its wide-ranging Smart Mobility initiative announced at CES 2015, Ford introduced a new program called FordPass that its said “will reimagine the relationship between the automaker and consumer.” The program is app-based and membership is free for Ford owners and non-owners. FordPass consists of:
- Marketplace—A partnership with ParkWhiz and Parkopedia to find and pay for parking with FordPay, and another with FlightCar for borrowing and sharing vehicles while traveling.
- FordGuide—Allows drivers to learn about FordPass services from live experts 24/7.
- Appreciation—Rewards members with FordPerks from partners such as McDonald’s and 7-Eleven.
- FordHubs—Storefronts opening later this year in New York, San Francisco, London, and Shanghai that are staffed with FordGuides that “will help guests understand mobility options available in their cities … and experience special events, including new vehicle reveals.”
At the Detroit show, Ford also announced the testing of autonomous vehicles in winter weather including snow, the opening of an automotive wearables lab to study smartwatch applications and health data to monitor when a driver is stressed or sleepy, and a pilot program through Ford Credit that lets consumers lease a vehicle as a group. Finally, Ford and IBM announced a collaboration called the Smart Mobility Experimentation Platform in which researchers will analyze data “to spot patterns, correlations and trends, and write code to make more efficient transportation decisions, such as finding open parking spaces or faster modes of transportation to beat gridlock.”
Neither Nissan or Acura exhibited at CES, but both used NAIAS to show off new innovations. The futuristic interior of Acura’s Precision Concept uses facial recognition to identify drivers in order to tailor their experience while behind the wheel. Nissan showed its “vision of the future of autonomous driving and zero emission EVs,” the IDS Concept, that can switch between manual- and self-driving modes via a steering wheel and a display that disappear into the dash. And by flipping a large dashboard display while in autonomous mode so that it faces outside, it can be used to “convey to pedestrians and others the car’s awareness of its surroundings and signals its intentions” via messages such as “After you” and “Stopping” in English, Japanese, and Chinese
Like Ford, Toyota displayed at CES but saved at least one tech tidbit for Detroit by announcing a partnership with Kymeta to incorporate flat-panel satellite antennas into cars. Embedded in the roof of a hydrogen fuel-cell Mirai research at the Detroit show, Toyota said the technology can provide faster data downloads than a cellular connection as well as wider coverage and a more stable connection, although Kymeta said it could be several years before it comes to market.
While CES continues to steal the spotlight away from traditional auto show, you can’t forget the Motor City gathering that happens the following week and brings the entire car world together. And this year the Detroit Auto Show delivered in terms of global debuts and tech.