Two days in the valley of AutoMobility LA

Over the 111-year history of the LA Auto Show, the AutoMobility LA is a relatively new contender.  Now in its third year, the show provides the auto industry with a perfect symbiotic relationship between the leading technologies, trends, and designs that are on display for the press and public.  Over 20,000 industry and media professionals were expected to turn out for this event.

This year, I was on site at the start of the AutoMobility LA show which ran from November 26-29 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  CNET’s Tim Stevens, started the program on Tuesday morning highlighting the shows four core themes: Autonomy, Connectivity, Electrification, and Sharing.  Of these, the two that are shaking up the industry the most are autonomy and electrification.  While the industry is moving fast, legislation to manage and regulate these changes is lagging far behind, especially in the US.  With these opening statements in mind, it was time to shift to the day’s events.

Over the course of the day, the Technology Pavilion that housed the events, buzzed with panel discussions, new vehicle releases, blockchain technology as it pertains to shared vehicle data, awards for start-ups, and even a children’s discussion on the future of transportation.

One of the more interesting ones, as well as relevant to CloudCar’s space, was titled “It Takes a Village to Create A Car.”  Here, the moderator discussed the changing landscape for the traditional auto OEMs and the increasing need for collaboration with technology companies and start-ups that offer the ever more complex services around autonomous driving, electrification, and connected services.  The panel experts representing Magna International, URBAN-X, and Ford elaborated on some of the challenges that each side of the partnership has in working with each other.  OEMs need to learn how to move quicker, and start-up technologies need to improve and adapt to processes that OEMs have been using for decades.  However, at the end of the day, it is understood by all that building a vehicle is no longer just relegated to the traditional players of old.  There is a seismic shift occurring on the design and manufacture of vehicles that require ‘villages’ to bring a car to market.

Rivian unveils new electric SUV and pickup truck

The first press conference went to the American automotive startup, Rivian. Its 35-year-old Founder and CEO, RJ Scaringe, unveiled what he described as the world’s first Electric Adventure Vehicles.  These included the R1S SUV and the R1T Pickup Truck.  Both of the vehicles will be enabled with level-3 self-driving capabilities on highways using a suite of cameras, LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), and high precision GPS.  The reveal of the two vehicles was very well received and the CEO was thronged by reporters and other members of the audience after his presentation.  The vehicles are expected to be available in a market in 2021.

Later in the day, the Chinese automotive startup BYTON also held the second press conference.  Their CEO, Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, unveiled the K-byte Concept sedan.  Earlier this year, BYTON had provided a glimpse of their first vehicle, the M-Byte SUV.  In both of these vehicles, BYTON’s most standout feature is their coast-to-coast display that spans across the entire cabin.  This is referred to as the Shared Experience Display.  Dr. Breitfeld’s statement for BYTON is they want to be the industry’s first “real smart car.”  As such, their vehicles will include facial identification, gesture control, as well as both touch and voice interactions.  BYTON is also designed to be the car of the future to support full vehicle autonomy.  However, until the rest of the market catches up with it, many of its truly smart features will be turned off.  BYTON does face many challenges aside from the fact that it doesn’t have a single car in the market today.  The most daunting one being that there are no charging stations anywhere in the world that can support this vehicle.  Still, the company believes it will go into production in 2019.

BYTON makes its LA Auto Show debut

With the onslaught of new OEMs and electric vehicles brings to the table the subject of infrastructure.  A couple of presentations and discussions breached this topic.  The talk from Electrify America stressed the need for a nationwide grid of charging stations to prepare for the onslaught of electric vehicles that would be entering the market in the next few years.  Over the course of the ten years ending in 2027, they will be investing $2 Billion in charging stations, with $1.2 Billion of that in California alone.

Another keynote discussion on infrastructure came from Ted Klaus, the Vice President of Honda R&D Americas.  They are working on technology around collision free intersections for both human and autonomous vehicles, as well as all other road users including pedestrians, bicyclists, scooters, and so on.  From their headquarters in Ohio, Honda R&D has worked with government, academia, and business partners to develop the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor.  This is a 34-mile stretch of a divided freeway from the urban center of Columbus out through suburban and rural sections of the surrounding area to Honda’s research office.  This will be the longest stretch of continuously connected highway in the world in 2019 and will serve as a proving ground to test all of the Honda’s connected, automated, and safety features in a real-world environment.  Over 200 of Honda’s own vehicles will be used to test out vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-everything use cases.  The results from these studies will be shared not only with the auto industry, but with governments, social, nonprofits, and academia.

AutoMobility LA ended with a keynote from Ned Curic, VP of Amazon Alexa Automotive.  The most relevant part of his talk was on contextual awareness of the Alexa system within the vehicle environment, including cases such as automatically calling service centers and scheduling an appointment whenever there is a problem with the vehicle.

The next day, AutoMobility moved from the tent pavilion into the various halls of the LA Convention Center.  Over one million square feet of space across the West and South Halls were used to display the vehicles and technologies.  The highlights included the many press releases scattered through the morning and afternoon.  It started with back-to-back presentations from BMW and Volkswagen.  Others that I attended included Porsche and Mercedes-Benz.  They were all marketed to have the biggest press impact with a lot of videos before each vehicle was unveiled.  However, the most impactful presentation was from Audi for their 2020 e-Tron GT vehicle.  The video for this release included the actor, Robert Downey Jr., of the Marvel movies fame.  Unfortunately, the bit with the actor was only on video, despite the build-up of his on-stage presence.

World premiere of Audi e-tron GT concept

All in all, this was a very worthwhile event to attend.  Technology within the automotive space is one of the most interesting areas in the market today.  Despite the fact that the industry itself moves slower than other technologies, such as mobile, there is a definite shift in how technology partners and OEMs are working together to accelerate this trend to bring the latest products in services into the market.