We saw a lot of interesting technology – and, who knows, maybe some new intellectual property – at this year’s North American International Auto Show, the annual gathering of the automotive industry at Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit, a short distance from our office. As intellectual property attorneys we are always interested in new technology, so we thought we would share a brief tour of the exciting high tech developments we saw at the 2016 Auto Show.
The Auto Show provides automakers a chance to talk to the public—ticketed attendance this year was 815,575, a twelve-year high. While automakers devoted considerable floor space to show off the upcoming 2017 models, they also sought to educate an often excited, sometimes skeptical public about major shifts in the industry, mainly electrification and automation.
The most immediate step toward an electric future for vehicles, and one of the biggest stories coming out of the Auto Show, is GM’s Chevy Bolt. The Bolt, expected for the 2017 model year, will become the first mass-market vehicle that can travel more than 200 miles on a single charge. Chevy made the Bolt a centerpiece of its display, perching an orange model on a rotating stand with a spokesperson in front of a twenty-foot screen.
Other automakers also tried to demystify the idea of an electric vehicle. Many had electric or hybrid vehicles on display, and numerous automakers, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Nissan, sat charging stations next to their plug-in electric vehicles. Attendees could—and did—inspect the electric plug from the charging station as well as the cars themselves.
Not all electric vehicles needed plugs. At the other end of the timeline from the nearly ready Bolt was the Nissan IDS concept. Nissan’s concept boasted wireless charging; a driver could charge the car in the garage, in a properly equipped parking lot, or, with properly equipped roads, while driving.
The IDS highlighted a second major shift in the industry: autonomy. Autonomous vehicles provoked some of the strongest reactions I noticed at the show. Nissan’s presentation for the IDS featured its mutating dashboard, with a retractable steering wheel and a flip-up monitor. As the car transformed from manual to autonomous mode, the crowd “oohed.” Volvo’s display contained an isolated interior for an autonomous vehicle with similar features, including a retractable steering wheel, reclining seat, and flip-up monitor, called the Concept 26. While the crowd mostly enthused as they did for Nissan, one person said, “That would freak me out.” Another remarked, “I don’t trust that.” These statements demonstrate why the automakers release concept cars. They want to demystify the technology to pave the way for later acceptance and enthusiasm.
To the same effect in the near term, many of the production vehicles boasted semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control, lane assist, and automatic parallel parking. Many automakers, such as Mercedes and Acura, had kiosks to explain just what these myriad features actually did.
The auto industry came to Detroit to lay out its visions for the vehicles of the future, from practical electric cars and vehicles that can keep you in your lane in 2017 to a self-driving, wirelessly charging multipurpose space in the decades to come.