DETROIT -- John Krafcik, CEO of Google's self-driving car project, is scheduled to kick off the Detroit auto show in January as part of a new showcase, called Automobili-D, designed to push the show toward a new focus on the business of mobility.
The Silicon Valley executive is the opening keynote on Sunday, Jan. 8, only days after the CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas. In recent years, CES has eclipsed the Detroit auto show as the go-to show for automotive technology. This year, the Detroit show is answering back with a shift toward mobility tech with Automobili-D, which makes the auto show as much about creating business within the industry as it is about selling cars to the public.
"This was born, internally, from realizing there's so much changing so fast with cars and driving," said Sam Slaughter, chairman of the 2017 Detroit auto show and CEO of Sellers Auto Group, which owns dealerships in suburban Detroit. "The future of this business (automotive) is not known, whether it's car-sharing or autonomous or more, but it's all transportation. How we all fit in that picture is completely relevant to the auto show and what's happening in Michigan."
However, the addition of a technology element to the show didn't stop Fiat Chrysler Automobiles from choosing to unveil an electric Pacifica at CES on Jan. 3, six days before the Detroit show starts, Bloomberg reported last week.
"As with any international auto show, sometimes product cycle launches do not coincide with show dates," Rod Alberts, the Detroit show's executive director, said in an emailed statement. "In total, NAIAS will have nearly 60 hours of presentation content from OEMs, suppliers, technology companies and startups that will be delivered from our global stage here in Detroit."
In the atrium
Automobili-D, which will run during press preview days and industry preview days at the show, Jan. 9-12, will occupy 120,000 square feet in Cobo Center's atrium and focus on showcasing and creating business opportunities for advanced technologies.
Roughly 120 companies will be represented at Automobili-D. The speaker list includes Krafcik; Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.; Chris Thomas, founder of Detroit-based venture capital firm Fontinalis Partners LLC; Ted Serbinski, managing director of Detroit-based startup accelerator Techstars Mobility; Donna Satterfield, vice president and partner of automotive, aerospace and defense industries at IBM Corp.; and representatives from Uber Technologies Inc.; General Motors; Facebook Inc.; Delphi Automotive plc; Nvidia Corp. and others.
Serbinski recruited 50 startups from around the world, including Detroit-based Inventev LLC and Ann Arbor-based Splitting Fares Inc., doing business as SPLT, to showcase at the show.
Inventev is developing and marketing a mobile power-generation system for work trucks and is seeking to open a vehicle development center in the city of Detroit. SPLT developed an app to create a community for carpooling.
Serbinski said the goal is to convince startups, investors and dominant players in the industry that Detroit should be ground zero for mobility technology.
"A lot of innovation is coming from all over the world, not just Silicon Valley. Let's flip the model," Serbinski said. "I want to stay in Detroit. I don't want to go to CES to see these technologies. The idea is to change the perception of Detroit as a place for innovation."
The Detroit auto show, put on by the Detroit Automobile Dealers Association, paid for part of the Automobili-D portion of the auto show out of its own coffers. Slaughter declined to say how much.
Talking about mobility
"I have a picture ... it's of an intersection in New York City in 1903 or 1904. It's filled with people walking and of horses and buggies," Slaughter said. "There's a red circle around the one automobile. Another photo of that same intersection in 1914 ... well, there's only one horse. Not talking about the combustion engine in 1904 is equally as ridiculous as not talking about mobility today. That's why we're doing this."
Automobili-D also allows the show's organizers to expand ticket sales for engineers and other industry workers that typically use the two industry preview days to benchmark vehicles inside Cobo Hall. Industry preview tickets, $110 per ticket, now grant entry into the Automobili-D portion of the show Jan. 9-12. Industry preview access to the entire show is Jan. 11-12.
The Detroit auto show sold 39,788 industry preview tickets last year. Slaughter believes more will be sold for the 2017 show.
"Typically, the show was limited to the mechanical and electrical engineers looking to benchmark," Slaughter said. "Now, with these symposiums, we'll be attracting software engineers and others that are growing within the business."