CES 2017: more a tripping point than tipping point?

After the 2017 CES and Detroit Auto shows, PR Director Mark Harrison questions the apparent obsession with telling the world about the cars of the future. Is it more a tripping point?

The dust has settled on the 2017 CES and Detroit Auto Show: never before have we seen such variety of ‘car’ news.

From the unusual: The Rinspeed Oasis took green motoring to the extreme with a garden on its dashboard.

To the prosaic: Toyota announcing that full autonomy is much further away than Elon will have us believe.

And the frankly bizarre: the Faraday Future launch that ramped up the ‘post-truth’ of car launches (face it, folks, we have always promised a little bit more the dream than reality of a new car…but not quite like this).

Now the Geneva Auto Show looms on the horizon and, to a certain extent, it will undoubtedly be a reality check with its mix of traditional and important new car launches, from fleet stalwarts (Vauxhall Insignia) to very-much-non-autonomous supercars (Pagani Huayra Roadster), and the myriad upstarts that make it such a unique event: the 1030bhp Techrules GT96 Chinese EV, with a 0-60mph of 2.5sec, a 217mph top speed and 1200 miles of total range won’t cause too many sleepless nights at Ferrari HQ.

But most Geneva headlines will still be about autonomy, range, mobility and connectivity; and we’ll still hear as much about Samsung, Apple and Bosch as we do Ssangyong, Alfa and Porsche.

So. Is the chat, glitz and budget of communicating the next generation of automotive helping or hindering sales?

Is it relevant for BMW customers and prospects today to know what they might be doing in 2025?

Back in in 2007, if memory serves me well, we talked 95% about 2007 and 5% about the next three years. In 2017 it seems to be 50:50, “today:2020”. And much of what is being predicted will not come true. Is it wasted time and money to tell the world about your 2030 vision when your cars are stuck in traffic jams or dealer stock today? Let’s face it, we’re not quite at a tipping point. Is this apparent obsession with telling the world about the cars of the future more a tripping point? Maybe. Depends what you grow in your Rinspeed Oasis.

In 2016, over 70 million people globally bought, fuelled, then drove – and can find the value of and know how they will sell – their petrol or diesel car.

About 3% of that total went electric.

No one is legally allowed to drive fully autonomously.

People, infrastructure, and markets are nowhere near ready for car-sharing, electric cars, autonomy, or mobility services. Will they even be in time to satisfy the shareholders and owners of the ‘future car’ businesses? And at what point do the likes of Tesla, Uber, and others pick all the low-hanging fruit and saturate their middle-class mostly urban markets?

There’s still a long way to go for electric cars to be visible, understood, considered and adopted: and it’s not an ‘either/or’ in the race between the electric and traditional car now that hydrogen is back in play and car sharing is claimed to be profitable. At the same time most people are not ready, don’t care, are too old, too young, or must rely on a cheap diesel hatchback that they can just about afford to run to get them around their rural roads to work, the supermarket and the baby-sitter. Many people need their local Esso or Texaco fuel stations to fill their tanks and provide their lunches: and have never heard of Ludicrous Mode or UberEats. Few people need electric charge points at commuter-belt railway station car parks.

So, yes, CES was fascinating; spending time with David Gandy and a Jaguar I-PACE Concept in a virtual reality world is really cool; and trying to persuade your Kia-owning old man that he will order a driverless Uber on Amazon in 2030 to take him to the pub for his 90th birthday party is mildly entertaining.

But, Nissan have a lot of new Micras to sell this year; the classic and heritage car market and industry is growing; and millions of people in Europe have only just bought their first diesel car.

And how exciting is all of that!

Ten years ago in the world of car PR we worried about winning a group test in What Car?, sweated over what Jeremy would say in The Sunday Times, impressed the marketing director by getting a celebrity to ‘review’ our car in Esquire and, er, that was sort of about it.

The next decade is going to be so much more interesting and challenging: a god-send for communicators and content makers in the world of automotive as we have to help ‘sell’ the dream and ‘sell’ the reality. The latter paying for the former. A great mix of the operational and strategic, the visionary and pragmatic, the fact and fiction. And an intriguing persuasive challenge to not over-promise and under-deliver. Something the communications’ teams at Faraday Future and Toyota diverged on at CES. I, for one, can’t wait for Geneva, Frankfurt, LA and next year’s CES.


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