Automotive At CES Through The Years


(By Buzz Knight) The Consumer Electronics Show provides a mountain of intel to take in every year, and the automotive sector is a big part of it. CES has become a showcase for an evolving auto business that has innovated, pivoted, and marched to its own beat.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally keynoted the event back in 2009. Since Mullaly’s appearance, the shape of the show regarding automotive has changed dramatically, and other car manufacturers and OEMs have been eager to be at CES as well.

Ford at first was primarily focused on its driver-connect technology, incorporating SYNC and MyFord Touch as Ford developed a connected destination for mobile devices. Ford was very focused on helping drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, while evolving software-based platforms that fundamentally change the way consumers and businesses interact with vehicles.

Mulally would return to keynote CES multiple years later, and his theme regarding the car becoming a computer on wheels would strike a chord regarding the changing face of the dash. Luca de Mayo of Audi called the next generation of cars “the fastest and most powerful mobile device.”

Speech recognition would also be an important theme for Ford and the other automotive companies that would be part of CES in the coming years. Adaptive cruise control with heads-up displays would grow, along with mobile hotspot connectivity, and the radio business began to be educated about the immense challenges we would face.

This would lead to an important dialogue about our business and how industry leaders need to be aligned around the connected car and its present and future impact.

Does radio “sell” the value it brings to consumers every day? Radio stations and companies sell against each other rather than selling the medium itself — should that mindset be reconsidered?

I truly believe this is a priority for our industry. Has the business to this day truly acknowledged how consumers want to consume content? The dashboard has become part of a cohesive strategy for automotive manufacturers, and the radio industry needs to consider every channel of distribution and how audience behavior impacts consumption.

This is critical to the future.

As the years went by, we would see the automotive footprint grow at CES, specifically regarding OEMs, with over 400 of them attending and debuting new products, including BMW, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota, and more.

Autonomous driving continues to be a major topic for our industry, and its ultimate impact is still not fully understood. I vividly remember attending the Radio Ink Convergence event back in 2012, when futurist Nolan Bushnell first mentioned the reality of autonomous vehicles in our lifetime and I thought he was way out in front of his skis — but obviously, I was wrong.

Back in 2015, we first began to see assistive elements such as sensors, active drive assist, and failsafe mode as part of the road to self-driving vehicles. Along the way we would see major automotive manufacturers invest heavily in self-driving tech. For example:

  • Ford invested $1 billion in Argo AI.
  • Toyota invested $1 billion in its Toyota Research Institute.
  • General Motors acquired self-driving car startup Cruise Automation for $581 million.

Self-driving vehicles are here, although we are still not at the stage of Level 5 autonomy, with no human The radio industry’s reaction to the continually changing dashboard is critical to its future.

Some years ago at Radio Ink’s Convergence event I moderated a panel about the changing dashboard and how radio can best be prepared for the challenges. My fundamental conclusions:

  • Excellent content will always win.
  • Unduplicated content will always win.

CES 2021 will hopefully open our eyes to the reality that in-car listening is under attack, and we need to boldly adapt and prepare for our future.

Check out for information on their virtual CES tour.

Buzz Knight is the CEO of Buzz Knight Media and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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