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NAIAS 2019 Recap: What’s Happening in Mobility

By Posted on February 13, 2019

Tim Slusser
Director, Smart Mobility Initiatives

As one of NextEnergy’s newest team members, I’m excited about this first opportunity to share my thoughts on the future of mobility with our network of innovators, manufacturers, non-profits, government, start-ups, investors and others who share an interest in this space. I hope this is just the beginning of many meaningful conversations about future mobility solutions and the human behaviors that will shape them. On that note, I invite you all to email me directly or tag me in dialog on LinkedIn regarding my thoughts and observations here or any other mobility topics that you’d like to discuss!

Although I was unable to attend CES this year, I closely followed the event on social media and had thoughtful discussions with my colleagues who made the trip. From what I gathered, the hype around fully autonomous mobility took a bit of a left turn. I was only able to find one company providing autonomous rides to eager guests, and their environment was limited to a parking lot. It seems most companies chose to focus their efforts on consumer education and acceptance or virtual experiences as part of their booth displays (Bosch and DENSO both offered this option) vs. the real thing. I expect this trend to continue in 2019 as more companies will feel pressure to show progress towards their lofty goals promised in years prior. And while companies will likely make headway in 2019, I don’t expect the technology demonstrations to change much at CES 2020.

The week after CES saw the launch of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in downtown Detroit – marking the last time the event will be held in cold January weather. Starting in 2020, the show will move to June to enjoy warmer temperatures and avoid competing for attendance with CES.

For those of you who have not attended NAIAS in recent years, the show is now spread across two floors at Cobo Center. The upstairs main floor has long been the envy of the show. Automakers debut new models, make big announcements, and build sprawling interactive displays. In the past, the downstairs venue was widely overlooked, with most show attendees unaware of its existence entirely. However, with recent renovations, including a large events stage and the addition of the mobility-focused, Automobili-D event, I see this changing soon.

Automobili-D sponsor PlanetM, the State of Michigan’s mobility brand, has created a great amount of buzz with its PlanetM Awards that honor enterprises developing innovative mobility-focused platforms and technologies that are also on display in this area. This portion of NAIAS is growing each year with the number of innovators presenting their technologies and companies. This year, I took a ride on a folding electric scooter and watched an autonomous delivery vehicle drive the exhibition floor while handing out bottles of water to attendees. Touring the exhibitions, I admired the innovation going into our future personal and corporate mobility solutions.

Heading upstairs to the main exhibit hall, the difference was glaring. While all of the industry buzz appears to be around electric and autonomous vehicles (Ford announced it would electrify the Ford F-150, and General Motors announced that it would expand its EVs into the Buick and Cadillac brands, with Cadillac leading the company’s vision of what future EVs can be) yet there was no emphasis found on the show floor. EVs were unassumingly mixed in with their combustion engine counterparts and AVs were nowhere to be found. I can’t help but wonder, when will “mobility” exceed “auto” at the show? Will it be in phases or a big change all at once?

Will the show take advantage of the warm June weather to organize AV and other interactive outdoor demonstrations? Will more mobility solutions make their way out of the lower level and on to the main floor? I think the move can be the catalyst for the NAIAS has to redefine what an “auto show” looks like and as the director of mobility initiatives for NextEnergy, I am pledging our commitment to support these efforts. We are already working with our partners on activities to accelerate the innovative solutions that will help us move toward an electrified future, and we look forward to collaborating with others in the ecosystem to make the 2020 event a true showcase for the future of mobility.


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