Detroit Auto Show to take turn toward tech

As the automotive industry becomes an advanced technology industry, so too must the largest auto show in North America.

The 2018 North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center will feature more companies that wouldn’t seem very automotive to the average attendee — a sharp contrast to years past and a sign of the melding of consumer electronics, software and cars.

The show will feature product unveilings, panel discussions and press previews from the generally not-Motor City businesses of Intel Corp., BlackBerry, political journalism website Politico and others.

“We’re seeing a much larger contingent of big tech companies for this show,” said Max Muncey, public relations manager for the North American International Auto Show and the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association. “This is really the first time we’re showcasing the entire automotive ecosystem — from startups to venture capital to suppliers to automakers — that makes this whole industry run. We think it’s unique for auto shows, globally.”

Leading that push, from the industry to the auto show, is the rapid innovation of connected and autonomous vehicles, hinged completely on the buzzword, and very real future business models, of “mobility.”

The auto show is expanding its Automobili-D showcase in January to feature 150,000 square feet of mobility-focused software and hardware from established suppliers and automakers as well as more than 150 startups from around the world. The showcase will also extend into the first weekend of the public show for the first time with a hiring event.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. is also hosting a matchmaking event during press week to align automakers, suppliers, startups and venture capitalists in prescheduled meetings.

Detroit-based startup accelerator Techstars Mobility will also play host to startups and led the formation of the Mobility Advisory Board for Automobili-D at the show, intended to help lead startups to opportunities. Members of the board include Mark De LaVergne, chief mobility officer for the city of Detroit; Diane Lansinger, CEO and co-founder of mobility software maker Seeva; and Marc Weiser, managing director of RPM Ventures, among many others.

A consortium of universities will also be part of the Automobili-D portion of the show, including University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Clemson University, Stanford University, Ohio State University, etc.

The show will kick off Saturday with its annual Gallery event, which features a $10 million collection of 28 ultra-luxury cars. However, this year The Gallery is at Cobo Center instead of MGM Grand Detroit Casino, as it has been the past few years. Also different is about a dozen of those luxury vehicles will have dedicated space in Cobo Center during the entire auto show.

Elaine Chao, U.S. secretary of transportation, will keynote the opening of press days on Sunday. Intel, Mercedes-Benz and Ford will also do their public unveilings during the opening evening. Ford’s press event will be inside Cobo Center for the first time in nearly a dozen years after stints in Cobo Arena and then Joe Louis Arena.

On the show floor, nine new displays from automakers will be present, to the tune of $50 million, Muncey said — from Audi, BMW, Lincoln, Buick, Infiniti, Nissan, Kia, Acura and GAC.

“This is all under one roof,” Muncey said. “This show is really going to serve as proof points for the show and the industry and only better position us for the future.”

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