First impressions of the 2017 North American International Auto Show:

The cars are still here, glistening and glamourous. And they’re still the stars. But the old tug-of-war between luxury/muscle and green/clean gives way this year to a new entrant: Mobility.

As an old friend of mine, national radio host Doron Levin, said Sunday evening: “Nobody here is talking about zero-to-sixty. This is a technology show.”

Definitely. Opening day Sunday the buzz was about mobility, or the science of getting around.

The show’s new Mobilit-D display, which covers Cobo Center’s ground floor and features well over 100 exhibitors, including 50 start-ups, deals with everything from ride sharing to self-driving cars to tiny fold-up electric scooters designed to navigate crowded urban centers.

Planet M, the state’s umbrella for coordinating public and private mobility initiatives, has a big presence focused on preparing Michigan workers for the industry’s exciting present and future jobs. Training programs now run from K-to-PhD.

Several universities are on hand, touting their role in developing mobility technology. Suddenly, the nation’s brightest technical minds, who before lined up outside the HR offices of Google and Apple, are giving the auto industry a look, recognizing it is the newest high tech frontier.

The Mobilit-D space oozes opportunity.

The display is a big leap into technology by the Detroit auto show. And it is the show’s future. Expect this space and topic to become more dominant in future shows.

My regret is that by the time public days open on Saturday, most of the Mobilit-D displays will have been torn down. Paying visitors will see a show fairly similar to what they’re used to.

I hope the NAIAS next year can find a way to keep a consumer friendly version of Mobilit-D open for the public to experience.


Gov. Rick Snyder speaks at AutoMobili-D on the Atrium Stage at Cobo Center. Robin Buckson, The Detroit News

Keeping it in the D

Any doubts about the future of the Motor City in this new world of mobility eased somewhat with Sunday’s announcement by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV that it will invest $1 billion to upgrade its plants in Warren and Toledo to produce new Jeep vehicles.

The plants will also be able to churn out the Ram heavy-duty trucks now made in Mexico.

FCA’s news came a week after Ford Motor Co. said it is scrapping a planned Mexico manufacturing center in favor of investing $700 million to upgrade its Flat Rock facility.

Together, the two projects should add 2,700 auto jobs to the region.

Perhaps Chrysler, like Ford, is anticipating a more business friendly and profitable operating environment under President-elect Donald Trump. Or maybe both companies see advantages in keeping manufacturing closer to the research and development that will enable autonomous vehicles.

Either way, it marks a sharp reversal from the days when, one after another, shuttered auto plants disgorged their jobs to Mexico.

Bright lights, big city

A major past complaint about the Detroit auto show was that it was too contained to Cobo Center, and not as visible in the rest of the city.

You’ll know the auto show is here this year.

Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans has hired Los Angeles-based architects to create light sculptures that will be scattered throughout downtown Detroit.

They switch on Monday night and will remain up through mid-February, adding much-welcome brightness to Detroit’s dreary winter landscape.

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