After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Detroit lights up again for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) at Cobo Center. Complete with the newest technologies and designs, this auto show attracts massive crowds annually to the Motor City with 815,575 attendees at last year’s show. This year, I (along with a talented group of students from across the country) have the opportunity to cover this event and interview industry experts by participating in GM’s Student Journalism Experience. Without further to do, here are 4 things I will be looking for at this year’s Detroit Auto Show.
- Autonomous Technology: The race for autonomous vehicles is in full force at this year’s show. Fiat Chrysler has proudly announced its partnership with Waymo (the self-driving car division of Google) to test the self-driving technology in the Pacifica minivans. Additionally, Ford will introduce an upgraded version of the self-driving Fusion hybrid and Volkswagen will show an autonomous electric concept. While industry experts maintain that traditional powertrains and engines will likely dominate for years to come, as self-driving technology will be hard to sell in any market, it is fascinating to see what the near-future holds. As Henrik Christensen, director of the Contextual Robotics Institute at UC San Diego, told the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Kids born today will never drive.” It will also be interesting to see how automakers and technology companies will collaborate as engineering and technology continuously merge.
- Hybrid/Green Power: Fraught with stricter environmental regulations and an increasingly green-conscious consumer base, many automakers are investing in hybrid and electric power. Tesla stands out in this category, as the company has opened up a “Gigafactory” near Reno, Nevada, which produces lithium battery cells—the life-blood of car batteries. Tesla’s mission is to make electric vehicles more affordable to the everyday consumer. Ford will be showing off its Transit Connect Hybrid taxi prototype, Fusion Hybrid, along with confirmations of more hybrid and electric vehicles (including an F-150 hybrid) by 2020. Fiat Chrysler is debuting its all-electric Portal minivan concept, complete with a 250 mile range. Lexus, Honda, and Volkswagen are also presenting greener concepts and models.
- American-Made: President-elect Donald Trump found his way into this auto show by, you guessed it, Tweeting. After pressuring Ford and GM to boost production in the U.S., the president-elect now targets Toyota. While Trump technically cannot impose any additional border taxes or tariffs under NAFTA, his Tweets may have influenced big automakers, as Ford cancelled its plans of a $1.6 billion Mexican plant. With Tesla pumping out batteries in Nevada and Ford investing in a Michigan plant, I am looking forward to see if brands emphasize their domestic production.
- Design, with Women in Mind: Women drivers now outnumber men on the road in regards to carrying a driver’s license. According to GM research, women now make—or largely influence—85 percent of vehicle purchases. Ford came to similar conclusions in their research, noting that 53 percent of millennial buyers were female. With these stats in mind, I will be interested to see if automakers are honing in on this sizable demographic. According to industry analyst Jessica Caldwell, female auto buyers value safety, price, and practicality, while men tend to value technology, performance, and luxury. To see if current vehicle trends are catering to women, I will be looking for:
- More crossovers and SUVs: These larger vehicles are relatively safer than small-sized or compact vehicles and better equipped for families.
- Greater fuel economy: hybrid and electric vehicles can cut down on fuel costs.
- Ride height: Since women, on average, are shorter than their male counterparts, higher ride height increases a sense of safety on the road.
- Nifty Features: Built-in vacuum cleaners and other gadgets will appeal to busy mothers and fathers.
- Handbag storage: an often overlooked car design feature is a space for women to place purses or handbags while driving. This can eliminate a potential safety threat, as handbags can become projectiles in a crash if placed on the passenger seat.
With those four points in mind, I am excited to engage with journalists, industry leaders, and fellow students in one of the biggest auto shows in the world.