Cars are now among the main attractions at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that opens Jan. 6 featuring vehicles with touchscreen dashboards and others controlled by smartwatches.
A record 10 automakers will show their wares on an exhibit space the size of three football fields.
“CES has become a major launch point for a lot of the big automakers,” said Mark Boyadjis, technology analyst for researcher IHS in Minnetonka, Minn. “CES is a way for them to get on a global stage for technology.”
The evolution of Ford’s CES exhibit tells the story of the automotive ascent at the trade show that attracts 140,000 visitors. Five years ago, Ford displayed its new Taurus on a 20-foot-by-20-foot piece of carpet. This year, Ford has a two-story display with five vehicles, a wall of digital screens and private offices for conducting business.
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BMW, in its second year at CES, has a sprawling exhibit that includes a fleet of more than 100 cars and covers 57,475 square feet of space just outside the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The amount of exhibit space at CES dedicated to car technologies has almost doubled over the last five years to 165,000 square feet, according to Tara Dunion, a spokeswoman for the show.
“When you look at who’s coming (including car maker bosses), it has become an auto show,” said Tim Leuliette, CEO of Visteon Corp., a supplier of technology to car cockpits. “It’s reflective of the vehicle becoming a mobile device. Welcome to the new world.”
Drivers are demanding their cars keep them constantly connected like a smartphone on wheels. In-vehicle technology is the top selling point for 39 percent of car buyers, more than twice the 14 percent who care most about horsepower and handling, according to a survey last year from the Accenture consulting firm. The number of cars connected to the Internet worldwide will grow more than fourfold to 152 million by 2020 from 36 million today, according to IHS.
This year, BMW, which has U.S. operations in Greer, debuted its first CES exhibit last year, is getting in on the wearable-technology craze that swept the show in recent years with products such as Google Glass and Fitbit. The luxury automaker will show a fully automated valet parking technology where the driver gets out of his car and issues a command through his smartwatch: “Go park yourself.” The car then finds an open space in a parking garage and parks itself until beckoned by the driver to return.
Hyundai also is showing off wearables, with a smartwatch that can start or unlock a Genesis luxury sedan with the tap of the finger.
Some of the biggest buzz is building for Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto systems that mimic the functions of an iPhone or an Android phone on a dashboard touchscreen. They are scheduled to go on sale early next year. When Apple first showed CarPlay on a few models at the Geneva Motor Show in March, it stopped traffic on the convention floor.