Detroit auto show to add autonomous test drives in 2017

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

The North American International Auto Show said Thursday as part of the new AutoMobili-D expo it will add a 1.5-mile outdoor closed test track along the Detroit River to showcase advanced self-driving technology and driver-assist features.

The new AutoMobili-D expo, a 120,000-square-foot space at Cobo Center, kicks off Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017 — the day before media days start — and runs through the show’s industry days, Jan. 11-12.

Some 125 to 130 total companies, are expected to participate in the new showcase focused on the future of autos and mobility, said Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association and North American International Auto Show.

So far, 30 to 40 companies have agreed to participate, Alberts said. The expo, which will feature press conferences and demonstrations on the media days, will include 50 mobility startup companies from across the globe. They will come through the assistance of Techstars Mobility, a Detroit-based incubator launched in late 2014 to support transportation-related startup businesses.

“Everybody’s on board and it really gives an opportunity for the smallest tech company to participate in this initiative,” said Sam Slaughter, chairman of the 2017 Detroit auto show.

The new AutoMobili-D event comes on the heels of the popular tech trade show CES in Las Vegas, where automakers have increasingly turned to debut new technologies and even vehicles. CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, is the week before media days for the Detroit auto show.

Several automakers, including General Motors Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., and four suppliers will participate in the new AutoMobili-D exposition in some capacity, said Max Muncey, public relations manager for the auto show.

Suppliers participating in AutoMobili-D so far include IBM, Magna, Schaeffler and ZF. Industry and government partners for the event include the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Alberts said automakers may use the new space to focus on unveiling a new technology. For example, Toyota may have a vehicle debut during a morning press conference and then may use the afternoon to unveil a new tech offering.

“We’ve already had big interest from the manufacturers on that side,” he said.

AutoMobili-D participating companies will be able to offer media and industry preview guests opportunities to test drive vehicles with new technology on the closed course. This year’s auto show attracted nearly 5,000 journalists and about 40,000 people for the industry days.

The outdoor course would be outside the Cobo Center Atrium and run along Atwater Street between the Renaissance Center and Joe Louis Arena. Cars may be lined up outside and companies also could book an hour of the track to demonstrate a technology to the groups, Alberts said.

“Having international media and industry attendees get behind the wheel and experience these exciting, cutting-edge innovations in potentially inclement weather adds a unique dynamic to AutoMobili-D,” Slaughter said in a statement.

A smaller, indoor test area also is slated to be part of AutoMobili-D.

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