There’s an annual event which does not appear on any auto show calendar, yet which for large sections of the motor industry is more important than the orgies of new metal in Detroit, Geneva, Frankfurt, Paris or Tokyo.
It’s called the International Consumer Electronics Show, shortened to the CES, and it takes place in Las Vegas immediately before the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
As the name suggests, it is not exclusively automotive – there is everything from half a hall full of Chinese companies selling iPad cases to premium audio manufacturers showcasing GBP50,000 pairs of speakers.
It’s not open to the public, either. But it attracts around 200,000 consumer electronics professionals, analysts, buyers and media over the course of a week. For an increasing number of OEMs, and more so for Tier 1 suppliers who tend to get overlooked in the catwalk-style parade of new production and concept cars at the auto shows, the CES is a must.
This year a record nine OEMS were present, including BMW and Mazda for the first time alongside CES stalwarts like Audi, Ford, GM, Chrysler and Kia. Mercedes-Benz and Toyota were back, too, and it’s a fair bet that almost all the others were represented by buyers, engineers and designers. In private rooms all over the city, deals were being struck for the content that will find its way into our cars in two, three or five years.
The twin focus of the OEMs in Las Vegas was connectivity and autonomous driving, although in that respect all nine were usurped by a French technology company which, with help from the UK, Switzerland and Singapore, has just become the first in the world to bring a self-driving car to market.
The Navia, from Induct Technology, sells for GBP170,000 and is being put forward as a ‘first-mile, last-mile’ solution for use around college campuses, hospitals, large industrial sites and at shopping malls, where conventional cars are impractical or unwelcome The first four orders, from the US, are soon to be announced.
What the OEMs had to show has been largely developed by their Tier 1 electronics suppliers – companies such as Harman, which commands nearly 38 per cent of the global automotive audio market and almost 27 per cent of the infotainment business.
Harman has not entirely abandoned conventional auto shows, but it largely feels it can spend its money better elsewhere. It took over the ballroom of the Hard Rock Hotel, away from the chaos of the vast Las Vegas Convention Centre, to showcase its latest wares.
Michael Mauser, head of the company’s lifestyle division, best summed up why the CES has replaced the jaded, conventional auto show for big-name suppliers. “If you think about our technology, this is the best show for us because we can combine our portfolio,” he says.
“All that makes Harman unique and strong is here under one roof. It is disappointing that the public is not allowed in, but a fact. Do I like it? No, because I would like them to have a chance to see our latest products.”