Car and tech industries try to make sparks fly in Vegas

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The global auto industry and Silicon Valley will be looking for potential alliances and marriages next week at the CES technology show in Las Vegas when automakers, suppliers and start-ups come together to flex their tech.

The automotive industry for years has tried to shed its image as slow-moving, trying to prove it can adapt to the fast-paced technology sector by making a showing, but automakers are still looking for their place at the annual technology exhibition.

Notwithstanding a keynote address from Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett on Tuesday, many traditional automakers are scaling back at the trade show formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, while suppliers are positioned to steal headlines with product reveals and partnerships.

“This is a show where the manufacturers can say, ‘Hey look, we’re tech companies, too,’ but it’s still a very awkward relationship between Silicon Valley and the auto industry,” said Rebecca Lindland, automotive analyst for Kelley Blue Book. “Right now there is very little elegance when it comes to manufacturer relationships with Silicon Valley, and for there to be true partnerships between the two industries, we need to continue to work on that camaraderie.”

Some of this elbowing may die down at the show in Vegas next week, as automakers and suppliers alike look for the right partnerships to speed development of technology that is changing the industry.

Automakers and suppliers “have started to buy into this whole partnership thing rather than one side trying to win over the other,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst for Navigant Research. “Both sides to a degree have recognized that they need each other.”

Aptiv, which was formed when Delphi Automotive split into two entities at the end of 2017, is using CES as its launching pad. The automotive technology supplier that’s focused on mobility announced this week it will be chauffeuring show-goers in driverless BMW 5-Series sedans equipped with the company’s newest autonomous architecture — thanks to a partnership with Lyft Inc.

Hitachi Automotive Systems and Clarion Co. will demonstrate autonomous driving technologies developed in a joint venture forged in late 2016, including a valet parking system on an Infiniti Q70 and a Nissan Rogue that drops off the driver and identifies an available space in which to park itself.

Nine automakers are attending the show this year. That’s the same number of automakers as last year, but more than 160 auto-related exhibits will command nearly 300,000 square feet of space at the show — the largest automotive presence yet at CES.

The stronger showing of suppliers and newcomers is a return to roots of sorts for the trade show designed for companies to meet, mingle and demonstrate technology via news conferences.

“The primary reason to attend the show is to do business,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which owns and produces CES. “I think every company is a tech company now. People used to measure cars by how fast they went — now it’s all about the technology of the car. Partnering skills are really important in that, and while it went out of favor for a while it’s coming back.”

But automakers first came to the tech show in search of Silicon Valley media attention, which is closely followed by industry analysts and investors.

“There was a perception that the auto industry was being left behind, so by being at CES and talking to a tech media audience and tech financial analyst, they could say ‘look, we are forward-thinking companies,’” said Abuelsamid. “To a degree I think they’ve had some success, not nearly as much as they’d like to.”

Instead, Detroit automakers are getting ready to make January the month of the pickup with big truck reveals expected at the Detroit auto show the week following CES. The Detroit show is also extending its AutoMobili-D display into the public days as the show changes with the times.

Smaller brands and suppliers, however, are still using CES for product launches. Byton, a brand born out of the Chinese electric-car company Future Mobility Corp., is expected to reveal its first vehicle in Las Vegas.

And the “Smart Cities” theme of this year’s show — encouraging technology to cure headaches caused by urbanization — is driving ride-hailing and mobility news from all ends of the automotive industry.

In addition to Aptiv and Lyft’s driverless taxi service, Toyota Motor Corp. is expected to announce a mobility services platform. Hyundai Motor Co. is expected to take the wraps off its next-generation autonomous-driving features on a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle.

It’s not clear yet what Hackett will discuss in his keynote address or what the Blue Oval has to roll out at the show, but spokesman Alan Hall said it will “tie together everything that we’re doing now to see how it all intersects and works together, and how we see the world evolving.”

The Dearborn-based automaker is prepping its Flat Rock plant for greater production volume of a hybrid-powered autonomous vehicle that the automaker has said will come to market in 2021. The automaker, which partnered with Domino’s last year to test driverless pizza delivery in Ann Arbor, has said that delivery services will be an important part of its autonomous programs.

Ford CEOs have a long history of delivering speeches at CES, starting with Alan Mulally in 2009 when he said Ford was “working to think and act like a technology company.” Mulally, who was a superstar leader credited with saving Ford from bankruptcy during the Great Recession, went on to become a staple of sorts at CES before he retired in 2014. Fields also spoke at the show twice, including last year.

“Ford is up against many of the same challenges its competitors are up against in the automotive industry. It’s a big challenge,” Lindland said. “The industry needs to get people that can convey the message that the automotive industry can serve as a place for innovation, creativity and solutions, and that you can make a difference in this field.”

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Courtesy of The Detroit News

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