Top lessons learned for automotive and mobility suppliers from CES2020

February 3 2020

In the first week of January, CES2020 confirmed its role as one of the most important shows for advanced automotive technology, with a record number of new vehicle introductions from automakers for this show, as well as a record number of automotive suppliers and mobility technology systems companies participating in this juggernaut event in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Few, if any, other automotive expos or conferences generate such a critical mass of technology-oriented automaker and auto supplier executives, analysts, and automotive journalists as CES2020 did. And this show – arguably the world’s largest business-to-business trade show – seems to continue to build momentum.

Although the official numbers are still being tabulated, CES2020 was expected to convene some 175,000 attendees, more than 6,500 journalists and some 4,500 exhibiting companies over four days in the “king of convention towns.”

Prior to the event, leading trade journal Automotive News said: “CES is becoming the venue of choice for brands to prove to consumers, and each other, that they are embracing the future of mobility. More than 160 automotive technology companies, including 10 major automakers, will attend this year looking to forge partnerships and recruit hard-to-find tech and engineering talent.”

All told, there were some 800 exhibitors from around the world showing their latest automotive wares at CES2020 for connected vehicles, autonomous driving, automated driving (ADAS) systems, electric vehicles, shared mobility and smart urban vehicles.

CES started out more than 50 years ago as the Consumer Electronics Show with 20 exhibitors (including companies like Motorola, Phillips and LG), and focused on consumer electronic products like pocket radios and TVs.

In recent years, as the show has grown in size and scope beyond electronics, it rebranded itself as CES and today it is recognized globally as a major showplace of automotive technology.

So, if your company plays in the automotive supplier and mobility technology space, and you are considering participating in CES2021, here are our key takeaways from this year’s show:

1. CES is a good venue for both automakers and suppliers to show their products.
While a dozen vehicle manufacturers from around the world hosted exhibits at CES2020, there were almost 800 vehicle technology suppliers – from new start-ups to major traditional Tier One suppliers like ZF and Magna – showing and demonstrating their technology concepts for automated /assisted driving, autonomous driving, connected cars, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, electrified vehicles, ride sharing and more.

Even electronic giant Sony, which is not considered a traditional automotive player, got into the act by unveiling its Vision-S safety concept vehicle at CES2020.

2. CES brings together auto and tech thought-leaders to share their vision.
Beyond the exhibits, hundreds of top automotive and tech industry thought-leaders from automakers and suppliers, start-ups, think-tanks and other organizations share their views via various panels on a wide range of automated and connected mobility topics throughout the week.

One of the best CES conference tracks is SAE’s Connect2Car panel program, a popular day-long series that explores all facets of rapidly changing connected-vehicle technologies.

3. CES continues to expand and shows no signs of slowing down.
In 1967, the inaugural New York City show featured 250 exhibitors. This year, the show had more than 4,500 exhibitors. As new auto tech companies emerge up every day to meet the growing needs of the auto industry’s evolution toward electric, autonomous, connected and shared vehicles, there will be more auto-related exhibitors coming to this event than ever.

And with the Las Vegas Convention Center adding 1.4 million square feet of additional exhibit space by CES2021, there should be plenty of room to accommodate them.

4. Vehicle technology has become a “show-within-a-show at CES.”
At CES2020, the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center and the adjacent Westgate hall were filled with automotive vehicle technology – making this area almost a one-stop shop for all things automotive. In addition, countless acres of outdoor automotive displays and technology ride & drive demonstrations were hosted in nearby parking lots, for even more automotive interaction.

This year, automotive and vehicle technology companies accounted for nearly 20 percent of all CES exhibitors and more than 10 percent of the show’s total 2.9 million square feet of exhibit space. And you can count on automotive’s role to be even bigger at CES2021.

5. More traditional auto suppliers will participate in CES.
As traditional auto suppliers change their product portfolios and beef up their software and high-tech offerings to meet the changing market needs, you can expect more of them to use CES to showcase their evolution to customers, analysts, media and shareholders.

In the past four years alone, the number of automotive companies exhibiting at CES has grown from 115 to over 800 – seven-fold growth – and that trend will continue.

6. More new automotive tech suppliers will jump into CES too.
Every day, entrepreneurs and technologists are starting up new companies to tap the multi-billion dollar markets being created by automakers’ quest to develop autonomous, connected, electric vehicle, shared and urban mobility-related products and services.

Many of these new companies, who hail from around the world – including Silicon Valley, Israel, Japan and China – are working on the sensing, radar, LiDAR, camera, 5G, facial recognition, IoT and other technologies that they hope will enhance future mobility. And they will flock to CES in 2021 in hopes of proving their credibility, gaining market attention and maybe even going viral as CES’ “next big thing.”

7. Winning media attention at CES is getting harder.
While some 6,500+ journalists attend CES, winning media attention is not that easy for automotive firms. First, only 200-300 of these reporters actually cover vehicle technology; most of the reporters attending the show are there to cover consumer electronics products from high-definition TVs to virtual reality to medical devices to smart appliances.

Many of these auto-focused reporters will be tied up in major automaker press conferences for two solid days, leaving little time to try to cover the hundreds of other auto-related exhibitors that have technology news to share. You really need a compelling pitch and an experienced PR partner to get media attention.

8. Competition for attendee attention at the show will get tougher.
With more companies overall clamoring to exhibit at CES, and more auto-related companies jumping into the CES mix, competition to get potential customers into their booths will continue to intensify.

9. Start planning for CES2021 now.
Every day you wait to get started, you will lose some of your options. If you want to be a standout among the thousands of exhibitors at CES2021, make sure you have reserved your exhibit space, engaged your exhibit house to start planning your display, and start thinking about your PR strategy and who can help you to implement it successfully.

Bonus lesson: Give yourself ample travel time during CES. The influx of 175,000 extra people for CES overwhelms Las Vegas’ transportation systems. At peak times, lines for the monorail, taxis or shuttle buses can easily add 30-60 minutes to the travel time between your hotel and the exhibit halls.

CES calls itself the “global stage for innovation.” If you want to perform like a star on this unique stage in 2021, consider the nine lessons mentioned above. And as they say in show business when wishing a performer good luck, break a leg!

Jim Bianchi
President, Top lessons learned for automotive and mobility suppliers from CES2020
Jim is a senior hands-on PR professional directing the full-service Detroit-area PR agency Bianchi Public Relations – serving select business-to-business clients (including five of the 100 largest auto suppliers) with deep understanding of the Detroit / North American automotive community. Offering 30+ years of B2B and automotive supplier PR experience gained in corporate and agency settings, gained from serving a wide range of clients, from start-ups to global corporations, as well as industry organizations. Jim leads a respected team of professionals honored as “Best of Michigan Business” for PR firms and one of "101 Best & Brightest Companies” in Metro Detroit. Inducted into the PRSA Detroit Hall of Fame (2012) for his contributions to the PR industry, the chapter and the community, Jim Bianchi was named the first recipient of the WSU Department of Communication’s Alumni Achievement Award (2003).

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