By Gary S. Vasilash

The CES show, which is produced by the Consumer Technology Association, was once an event that when by the non-acronymic moniker: Consumer Electronics Show.

That seemed to be somewhat limiting, so the official name was changed to just the three letters.

One could argue that it worked out fairly well because now CES is what some say the best auto show running.

At the recent 2023 CES there were some 3,200 exhibitors at the Las Vegas Convention Center at nearly 10% of the total were in the Vehicle Technology category, with everything from suppliers of sensors to well-known OEMs like VW to want-to-be-known ones like Sony Honda Mobility.

Clever, color-changing camo for the VW ID.7, a vehicle shown at the 2023 CES. (Image: Volkswagen)

On this edition of “Autoline After Hours” Chris Thomas, former chief technology officer at BorgWarner who is now an industry consultant and Paul Eisenstein, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Detroit Bureau, join “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me to talk about what they saw at CES. (The other three were there. I wasn’t.)

The conversation ranges from small radar sensors that could be deployed in vehicle interiors to determine what’s on a given seat and under the hood to determine the level of washer fluid (they are both small and economical) to the BMW concept car that features an exterior material that allows the selection of 32 different colors and combinations thereof—when you want them.

The consensus of the group is that technology is what is driving changes in the auto industry and CES is the correct venue for the exhibition of that technology. (It should also be noted that the CEOs of BMW and Stellantis made keynote addresses; the show also has a conference element to it.)

While there continues to be some doubt about the prospect of traditional auto shows going beyond the function of showing the consumers the latest in vehicles that they can also see at their local dealers, going back to the function of providing a look at what could be, it seems that there is no question about the viability of CES providing the latter function in a very big way.

You can see the show here.

What Is the Ram 1500 Revolution EV Concept?

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Ram Truck brand has announced it will unveil its Ram 1500 Revolution battery electric pickup concept at CES 2023 in Las Vegas on January 5.

“CES” used to stand for “Consumer Electronics Show.”

Now it is bigger than that.

One of the reasons it is expanded in scope in due to the auto industry which, for the past few years, has realized that attending an industry trade show full of people who are tech heat seekers is good for word of mouth, which is good for business.

Consider this: the Chevy Bolt EV was introduced on January 6, 2017 at CES. GM CEO Mary Barra made a keynote address at the event that day.

The following week in Detroit the North American International Auto Show, the venue where vehicles are ordinary unveiled, got to see the Bolt EV, too. Not a debut, of course.

What’s more, coincident with the unveiling of the Bolt EV Mary Barra and the car appeared on the cover of Wired magazine.

Vehicle OEM PR people know that writers for Car and Driver and MotorTrend have to cover vehicles like the Bolt and the Ram 1500 Revolution.

If they can get publications like Wired to cover them—that’s saying something.

A question about the Ram 1500 Revolution and CES:

Is Ram Truck positioning the vehicle as tech or a truck?

This is not to say that modern trucks don’t have a lot of tech. But it does seem that by launching it there the company is saying to the world that the truck is a marvel of advanced engineering more than this is something that someone is going to use to haul aggregate or boards or whatever.

It will most certainly have the capability to hauling that whatever and then some.

But if it can convince people who are never going to haul that this is a technically trick truck, then they may get even more market traction than they would if they introduced it at the Chicago Auto Show, an event in February where OEMs have tended to launch their trucks.

CES: Yes, People Are Still Getting COVID

By Gary S. Vasilash

Auto shows, for purposes of publicity, have become passe. In terms of allowing consumers to get a chance to see a vast array of brand-new vehicles, they are great. But when it comes to getting attention from reportorial outlets, vehicle manufacturers have increasingly run the numbers and concluded that the input (the money they spend) is far in excess of the output (the amount of coverage) at auto shows.

During the past few years, OEMs have glommed on to the fact that there is a big technology show held in Las Vegas at the start of January each year, CES.

This used to be the “Consumer Electronics Show.” But the show organizers have presumably decided that it is better to be as inclusive as possible, so by using three letters rather than descriptive words, they can get more exhibitors.

As the fortunes of traditional auto shows have waned, those of CES have waxed.

So more and more automotive OEMs and suppliers have decided that CES is a place they need to be.

It doesn’t hurt that they want to be perceived, for purposes of stock valuation, as being “tech companies,” something that is a bit more difficult to pull off at a traditional auto show.

So a number of OEMs have signed up for CES.

Last January CES was entirely virtual. That was when COVID-19 was raging.

This January CES is being held in person. This will be when COVID-19 is raging.

Some tech companies came to the realization that a jammed trade show with people from all around the world (159 countries) in attendance—even though attendees must show proof of vaccination, wear masks, and get test kits along with their badges—is not a good venue while hospitals are at the breaking point with COVID cases.

Twitter, T-Mobile, Amazon, Intel, Lenovo, Google, Microsoft and Meta dropped out. Tech media outlets including TechCrunch and The Verge said they wouldn’t put their people in harm’s way.

In the automotive space General Motors and Waymo have announced they’re not going to physically participate.

The CES organizers maintain that the show must go on.

Here’s something to know: as of December 26, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS), 84.36% of the ICU beds in Nevada are in use, of which 21.85% are for COVID patients.

Of course, were someone to attend CES and become infected they would probably back in their home locale before they became really sick.

So it should be known that HHS stats have it that in the U.S., as of December 26, 75.34% of all ICU beds are in use, of which 21.28% are in use for COVID patients.

Wonder how the ventilator supply is holding up. . . .

To say nothing of the nurses, doctors, orderlies, technicians, cleaning personnel, and all the other people who keep our medical facilities running, people who have been going through unmitigated hell because there are people and organizations that evidently are self-centered.

Yes, yes, we’re all tired of the pandemic. Yes, yes, we all want to get back to things in person. Yes, yes, plenty of people have been vaccinated.

Yes, yes, these are not normal times. Some companies clearly understand that. They clearly understand the health and safety of their people (and by extension, people who would come in contact with them) are critically important.

When companies ranging from Amazon to GM to Waymo figure CES isn’t the place to be, (1) how can other companies not come to that conclusion and (2) how can the CES organizers not understand that fact?

Post-Auto Show

The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) is sponsored by the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA). Which makes a whole lot of sense. Dealers want to sell vehicles, and what better venue than an expo hall full of shiny sheet metal and a wide array of interactive displays that can draw people in to spend hours looking at things ranging from the bread-and-butter to the exotic, from the gotta-have to the if-only.

NAIAS has historically been held during January, as the timing provided a variety of benefits. For one thing, it was always the first major auto show of the year. That was beneficial to the OEMs who wanted to get their newest of the new—and even what could be coming in the years to come—in front of the public, sooner rather than later.

There isn’t exactly a whole lot going on in Detroit in January, which is when winter really starts in earnest, so this meant that those consumers who were looking for something to do had it.

But then there were some issues that arose, one of which was a huge one: CES. The event that was previously known as the “Consumer Electronics Show.” Two key words there: Consumer. Electronics.

Auto OEMs are interested in consumers, of course, and, more importantly, they have been, especially as Tesla became something more than a quirky company sticking computer batteries into a Lotus Elise chassis, trying to position themselves as electronics, or tech, companies.

CES was happening adjacent to NAIAS. OEMs (and suppliers, which has not been a huge part of NAIAS, but one that was growing) started doing introductions at the massive show in Las Vegas (where, let’s admit, the weather tends to be friendlier than Detroit in January). Journalists were going out to Las Vegas. OEM execs from places like Germany had to weigh where they’d travel to (see previous parenthetical remark).

So NAIAS made a move. It decided to skip its show in January 2020 with plans to hold a SXSW-like experience in downtown Detroit in June 2020.

But then there was March 2020 and the beginning of the seriousness that is COVID-19.

The reimagined event was canceled.

And yesterday, Rod Alberts, executive director of both DADA and NAIAS, stated, “While auto shows remain an important platform to promote new mobility innovations and to help people make major vehicle purchase decisions, the traditional auto show model is changing.”

Not changing a little bit. A lot. Which has to be a tough thing for an outfit that has gotten so proficient over the years putting on tradtional auto shows.

Alberts announced an event that will be held in Pontiac, Michigan, September 21-26, 2021, named “Motor Bella.” It will be held not at a traditional expo center but at the M1 Concourse, which features car condos, a 1.5-mile track and is having a restaurant and event space built.

Tellingly, it is built on property that was once covered by the General Motors Pontiac West Assembly Plant. Things change. Factories give way to race tracks. Auto shows give way to something else.

While NAIAS is a show, Motor Bella will be more of an event, one that will take advantage of the grounds of the M1. There will be a concentration on the outside, not the confines of a building. People will not just look. They will also do. It will be active, not passive.

Credit to Alberts and his associates for recognizing “the traditional auto show is changing.”

More credit to them for doing something about it.–gsv