To me, this time of year in the U.S. auto industry has always (strangely) seemed to resemble Simchat Torah, the joyous Jewish holiday that marks the completion of the annual cycle of readings from the Torah. In synagogues and temples, two scrolls are removed from the ark, one rolled to the end of Deuteronomy and the other to the beginning of Genesis. The reader finishes the last of the five Biblical books in the Torah and then immediately begins reading from the beginning again in the second scroll.
For auto mavens, as we approach the end of the calendar year and the finale of an often exhausting auto show season, the faithful gather at the LA Auto Show on the sunny West Coast. Then they start a new year in January by immediately flipping their exhibits and attention to the North American International Auto Show in traditionally snowy Detroit, rolling into a new series of major shows over the months to come.
Some exhibitors unveil their latest models, concepts and technologies in LA; others wait for NAIAS. But in either instance, the developments that are revealed may easily rival the revolutionary change in the realms of computer and smartphone devices.
Looking forward to LA, for example, we’ll be seeing considerable emphasis on using natural fibers and bio-based substances that are designed to eliminate the reliance on oil inherent in plastics. We’ll encounter gesture-based interfaces that replace buttons, dials and levers, along with pop-up screens and information that streams throughout the car.
Autos and automation often have been posed as distant poles in the geography of industry. Cars and trucks supposedly represent heavy industry and slow-to-evolve offerings, while computers and telecommunications change every week to allow us to automate everything in our lives from home security to health fitness checks. But like the rest of the technology spectrum, automotive innovations and computing are rapidly converging. The vehicles you’ll see on the show floors of LA and Detroit will be as connected and communicative, app-laden and automated, as any smartphone or handheld tablet.
Increasing numbers of auto suppliers, the people who invent most of these new capabilities, are opening offices in Silicon Valley to tie themselves more closely to the talent and technology of the computing world, and Detroit—despite all its problems—has become a Mecca for tech among young professionals who want to introduce their ideas to the auto industry and other sectors.
The transition from LA to Detroit represents more than an auto show calendar. These days it characterizes the flow of technology back and forth between the hi-tech West Coast and the hot-car Midwest. It’s a phenomenon to celebrate and to follow online, because as soon as we finish scrolling through the last news report from LA, we’ll surely be eager to start scrolling through the next one from Detroit.