Why the car companies are at CES (and why tech world should pay attention)

Audi booth at CES

The car companies are here in force at CES. Well, at least Audi and Ford are (Ford, later today, will announce an electric car on stage here, and they gave me a 2012 Ford Explorer pre-production model that has all sorts of interesting technology which I’ll tell you about next week).

What’s going on? Why are car companies introducing cars and showing off their wares in big booths?

Because consumers are deciding on cars on things OTHER than horsepower, handling, and design. Yeah, those are still important, but what really is going to differentiate cars in the future are the features that are inside. Almost all of them technology focused.

Audi e-tron R8

Listen into a lunch I had with Audi’s CEO, his head geeks (from left is Mathias Halliger, head of architecture MMI Systems, Rupert Stadler, CEO, and Ricky Hudi, head of electronics development) and several journalists from blogs like Engadget and Autoblog (part I, part II). What did we talk about? Horsepower? The joy of driving? No. We talked about assisted driving technologies. How they were integrating devices into the driving experience. What they were doing with voice recognition and bringing up data from web systems.

Whoa. Web systems. That’s why +we+ should pay attention to the car companies. Some of the tech companies already are. Pandora, for instance, has been making lots of deals with car companies and at CES announced two deals with BMW and Toyota. In Las Vegas we’ve heard stories of Pandora executives taking press out for rides in the desert in the new BMW cars.

But, clearly, the car companies are thinking of something like Siri, which you’ll talk to, and it’ll find things for you. Need coffee at 1 a.m. your car will find it. Need to make reservations at a restaurant you are driving toward? Your car will do it (opportunity for OpenTable). Headed toward a Ritz for vacation? Make a spa reservation. Opportunity for SpaBooker.

Can the tech industry do more in conjunction with the car industry? I think so. We spend so much time in our cars. Especially for those who have families, you are already probably using things like iPads to entertain your kids. That makes more sense than a built-in entertainment system. Why? Because they are connected. I hate the screens in my Toyota minivan because they display so little (usually only DVDs) while our iPads can stream videos, music, let you play games, do research for school papers, and more.

Where is this going? It’s clear the car industry is reaching out to the tech industry and asking us to help them differentiate their products in the future. This feels like a shift in an industry that we’re just at the beginning of (and I think it will culminate in robotic cars like the Google self-driving cars — Audi’s CEO is proud of their involvement with the Stanford Center for Automotive Research (CARS). We did lots of videos at that lab, too, that you should watch if you missed them. (Part I/drive by wire; Part II/autonomous cars; Part III/solar research).

We should pay attention. Big market and great way to get a captive audience. I know I’m already captive to Pandora. Aren’t you?


23 thoughts on “Why the car companies are at CES (and why tech world should pay attention)

  1. That’s very exciting.

    Let’s hope they have thought through very carefully what happens to our attention while driving, and that potential software bugs won’t affect safety.


    1. They do millions of hours of research, they told me, on how to minimize distractions while driving. My radar systems are more reliable than most any driver I’ve met. They don’t get drunk. They don’t get distracted. They don’t fall asleep. Plus they see through fog and other adverse driving conditions (very helpful on our drive to CES, since we were in heavy fog some of the way).


      1. 1. They can be better than current distractions: intelligently pushing slices of content instead of driver seeking.

        2. I’d prefer third-party with the IP via my 4G mobile connection – give me another data card for my car, tie into whatever profiles I want, I’ll take it with me to my next car. See the outdated GPS in your dash for the alternative…

        More thoughts here on what can be done – old blog post that rambles so don’t bother if you’re not interested in the metadata and presence aspects:


    2. Very good point, and one which I think ‘could’ be an issue in the future. In the UK, its already illegal to drive holding a mobile phone – it HAS to be attached to a cradle and your only allowed to push the answer button when driving. So if the tech companies are looking at putting more tech inside vehicles, i think it needs to be done in such a way that it doesn’t distract the driver in any way but instead assists him. Im not clever enough to work out how to actually implement that, but im sure it will be done.

      Good to hear that Robert said they do millions of hours of research, too! I look forward very much to where this segment of the industry goes.


  2. It will arrive the time when people will choose its car not based on the hardware but on firmware and software. It has happen before on other industries (mobile, computers, etc) That day Apple will domain the car industry and will bring the automotive crown again to US.


  3. I’ve been considering building a crowd-sourced traffic/congestion service using tweets of traffic conditions coupled with location. The main issue with this is the safety aspect; tweeting whilst driving is not recommended, so it would have to be passengers sending updates.

    But with the prospect of the auto companies moving towards more in-car information and automation, together with their willingness to embrace new technologies, maybe now is the time to start working on this idea?

    Maybe an automated in-car system to send regular anonymous updates of car location/speed etc would be possible? or simple hooking up your phone/pad/slate with an app running which is sending this info?

    Any thoughts?


      1. Yes, I have seen Waze, but I think it is trying to do too much, and has very little coverage/presence here in the UK. I was thinking of something simpler; just focused on traffic information overlaid on Google/Bing Maps; updates sent automatically or via Tweets/SMS etc similar to crowd-sourced #uksnow hashtag which is currently used here to create a map of snow conditions throughout the country.


  4. Great post. You nailed it. In a world of “me too” the automakers that invest in new tech are winning the hearts, mindshare and sales. Remember in the automotive world there are long lead times with suppliers, testing, certification, integration and placement into vehicles with 7 year cycles. Audi was smart to build out a separate unit of people, processes and a separate collaborated office building to drive innovation. I am now on my 3rd Audi A4 – this one I custom ordered all the tech – and my Adaptive Cruise Control – helps me drive 48 hiway miles everyday. The car is MUCH safer with radar than I ever could be. The blind spot warning has saved me several times. The ESP and electric steering have corrected any fun that I was about to have. Thanks for highlighting these features and innovation!


  5. I got a black tie invite to a local Audi A8 “unveiling.” The car is an engineering masterpiece and I love it, but it was most impressive to a non-geek, non-engineer who realized that she and her friends could put make up on in the back seat… A delightful remarkable mix of engineering amazements and common sense design like that will eventually trickle to the A6 or A4, and everyone will DESIRE them. Bravo Audi.


  6. Why do I want all this stuff in my car. I am a self admitted gadget whore, but I take pride in the fact that I am a decent driver. I am in the market and have been looking at a new cars, things like back up cameras and collision sensors seem to make the activity of sitting in a car even more lazy. It takes the thinking and concentration required in driving and safety away. Plus has any one tried to park a vehicle with collision sensors in San Francisco? You will go deaf, before you finish parking.


    1. I am in the same boat. I LOVE all things tech and gadget-y. But I also love driving. The plain and simple joy of driving. One of the reasons I still drive a stick shift. My next car will most likely be a used Honda S2000. Doesn’t get much simpler than a two seater roadster and a nice twisty road 🙂


  7. Why do I want all this stuff in my car. I am a self admitted gadget whore, but I take pride in the fact that I am a decent driver. I am in the market and have been looking at a new cars, things like back up cameras and collision sensors seem to make the activity of sitting in a car even more lazy. It takes the thinking and concentration required in driving and safety away. Plus has any one tried to park a vehicle with collision sensors in San Francisco? You will go deaf, before you finish parking.


  8. great interview. these guys are obviously proud of what they’re doing, which is great. i think we need a lot more car companies exploring new technologies like that.
    too bad their english is in such bad shape (read really bad german accent). you would think their english should be better considering the talks about the communication skills of their cars.


  9. I think the real question is how long will connectivity in the car be via tethering from your mobile device? When will the automakers release connectivity on their own?

    I for one don’t want to be tied to my wireless provider any more than I have to.


  10. Robert–

    Thanks for the video recording– great to see business leaders in a casual conversation!

    As a professional Futurist – I have consulted with clients (State DOTs and automotive safety OEMs) on how to anticipate this transition towards technology-enabled future.

    In the past 18 months I have seen a significant shift in the tone of this conversation – towards a more open attitude towards this new value chain where technology transforms the industry. I am bullish!

    Re: What to do about the knee-jerk reaction of people who ‘do not trust’ the car…

    We know that autonomus vehicles are coming – and in the meantime we need to sell the vision of a human experience shaped by technology that supports more situational awareness.

    The framing that I promote w/ clients is to Sell the shift from ‘Driver to Captain’. We can envision a world in which the car does more of the operational – but the human as captain- is using a higher order level of thinking about monitoring bigger systems and not just the car ahead.

    There are billions to be made in this shift from driver to captain- and I’m glad to see you and others in the tech community help to mainstream these technology-mediated mobility experiences.

    A post from last year – looking at this value chain

    Beyond ‘connected cars’ – the other big idea in the industry is ‘mobility as service’ business model innovation – both from an hyper organized fleets (e.g. Uber Cab model) – as well as GM-Segway EN-V (former PUMA) product plus service future. So there is a long runway ahead for tech+ mobility services.
    Thanks Robert!

    Garry G
    Brooklyn NY


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