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The invisible fight for the auto industry

It seems fitting to write about the North American International Auto Show (or NAIAS, an acronym I came to memorize at a young age) as 2016 kicks into high gear. In case you didn’t know, Detroit and its suburban population primarily revolves around automobiles and their interconnected industries. This can mean anything from the automotive plants, technology suppliers (e.g. Delphi) and even the annual ‘Woodward Dream Cruise‘ — entirely comprised of vintage & classic cars — indications of the Motor City are ever-present and ubiquitous.

And while the ‘Auto Show’ is a traveling event in various cities across the country, the Detroit show kicks off the year with tremendous momentum and acknowledgement of the latest in car design, innovation and, as of late, the infusion of consumer technology. But I see a much more ominous change on the horizon and it looks much more like a battle for relevancy.

Segueing to the unveiling and emergence of Faraday Future this week at CES, there was a momentous livestream accompanied by a show floor exhibit of the FFZERO1 concept race-car (above). This press-oriented event was much more artificially contrived than Elon Musk’s Tesla events that bear much more authenticity to the founder’s style. And judging from reactions on the show floor, the concept car on display was less about the perceived speed & capabilities and more about the evolution of car design and production flexibility. For perhaps the first time, a platform approach to electric vehicle development was highlighted, taking the form of FF’s VPA (or Variable Platform Architecture). The press has done a tremendous job deriding the company and its coming out party, citing it as over-hyped, incomplete and even labeling it as vaporware.

This post, though, isn’t about Faraday Future and its actual vs. perceived vehicle and platform development. It is very much about the exponentially growing pace of innovation that seems impossible for the incumbent domestic and international auto makers to match. This perhaps, is why we’ve seen high-profile deals recently between Ford & GM together with Silicon Valley companies like Google and Lyft. I’m quite confident this is just the beginning — and I’m uncertain that this time around, Detroit will be able to persist and keep up as it has done for the last century.

In a couple years, we’ll certainly be talking about the auto industry and cars in general with a very different lens. With Apple rumored to be developing and planning to unveil a vehicle of their own in two or three years time, and Tesla making huge strides in the field of autonomous driving, the landscape is already starting to change more substantially than ever before. Perhaps car buffs and industry enthusiasts will also be entering the lottery for access to Apple’s ‘WWDC‘ (Worldwide Developers Conference), just as many of us on the iOS platform side have done to stay current and enchanted by Apple’s marvels. If that happens, the auto show’s relevancy will have been greatly diminished and we’ll probably be heading to Cupertino to visit the ‘spaceship’ that will be far more equipped to support larger audiences eager to experience v2.0 of the auto show.


Published in Auto Industry