As the Mobility Sector Revs Up, Startups and Dealerships Respond

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Sam Slaughter, DADA’s 2017 NAIAS chairman, said the 120,000-square-foot display will be set up at the base of the stairs on the main floor of Cobo Center, where the auto show is held in downtown Detroit. The plan is to include a test track; different “villages” with themes like connected cars and urban mobility, where startups and established companies will demonstrate their innovations; and formal matchmaking between startups and industry leaders seeking the technologies they’re developing.

“It’s a combination of an exposition and a working conference,” Slaughter said. “There’s a whole new subset of engineers and designers that might not come to the show otherwise. Southeast Michigan is incubating so much of the new technology coming, and our mission is to keep that out in the forefront and offer avenues for collaboration. This is where all the car engineering happens in the United States.”

According to DADA, Michigan ranks first in the nation for its concentration of engineering talent (89,000 people) and number of automotive-related businesses (462). In 2014, Michigan led the nation in connected vehicle projects (45), a growth of 50 percent over the previous year. When I covered the Detroit auto show in January, I wrote that mobility seemed to be the event’s dominant topic of conversation. Slaughter said his organization noticed something similar.

“We sure felt it during the show—mobility seemed to be on everyone’s lips,” Slaughter said. “With AutoMobili-D, we thought, ‘How can we harness mobility more and make it a theme rather than an undercurrent?’ John Q. Public and even the press don’t have the vision of what’s coming and how soon. In my mind, it’s an exciting time to be an automobile retailer.”

That is undoubtedly true, but how do you get a legacy industry like car dealerships on board with the fundamental shift away from personal vehicle ownership? After all, we haven’t even seen widespread adoption of any one digital platform for vehicle transactions, with individual dealerships varying widely in terms of what they offer online. If they can’t crack that seemingly simple nut, how will they successfully deploy driverless cars and ridesharing platforms?

“We’re all watching to see how we interact with these technologies in the real world,” Slaughter said. “Whatever happens with autonomous vehicles and car-sharing, there are still miles that need to be driven, and cars will still need service and maintenance.”

According to Slaughter, AutoMobili-D represents the biggest investment in a stand-alone exhibit DADA has made so far. House of New Mobility, the American Center for Mobility, and Techstars Mobility are partnering with DADA on the exhibit’s content.

“I feel like our timing is good,” Slaughter added. “What will make AutoMobili-D successful are the partnerships and experts we bring to the table.”

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