This week sees the opening of the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, the largest of its kind in the world.
Over the past months there has been a lot or murmurings from Silicon Valley as the global tech giants are rumoured to be working on all manner of their own car technology, including zero-emission pure electric engines and autonomous cars.
In many ways the traditional auto manufacturers have been a little lost in the buzz. Well no longer, it is fair to say that collective car industry have seized Frankfurt Motor Show 2015 as their springboard to lay out their vision and commitment to the future of cars, and it’s digital.
Probably one of the most poignant speeches highlighting the scale of this transformation came from VW Group CEO, Dr. Martin Winterkorn.
We are in the process of reinventing Europe’s largest automaker, laying the technological, economic and structural foundations. Our group already has the largest connected vehicle fleet on the road. By 2020 we will have transformed all of our new cars into smartphones on wheels.
During his speech VW Group unveiled new cars from across their brand portfolio each with an emphasis on efficiency and connectivity.
This theme extends right across the industry with other major players including BMW and Mercedes all announcing innovative technology centering around autonomy, fuel efficiency and connectivity.
Here are the key themes that are causing the most interest from the world’s press.
Car interfaces and gesture control
Increasingly car dashboards are moving away from switches and dials, instead adopting TFT screens allowing new and interesting ways of displaying and engaging with data and content.
BMW has announced some interesting new features on its flagship model, the 7 Series. Drivers will now be able to access and interact with the car via gesture control. Using 3D visual sensors, the driver is able to gesture using a finger controlling features such as the volume on the radio.
The range of what’s possible is limited at the moment but this will likely grow as the technology becomes established.
Building a car app ecosystem
While not necessarily news, it’s fair to say that the connected car and use of apps is no longer a pie in the sky idea with nearly all manufacturers committing to or launching cars with connected functionality.
One of the challenges is how you accommodate the technology people already use. Apple have launched Apple Carplay with many of the car makers offering integration, however with competing system from Google and proprietary systems developed by the manufacturers themselves, it will be interesting to see how this plays out over time.
It is an exciting prospect opening up the in-car apps to the developer community, especially as car technology has traditionally been closed systems.
Autonomous cars are coming
For months there have been pictures of strange looking vehicles driving around the streets of Silicon Valley. It is rumoured that Apple is investing heavily in R&D, Google has been demoing the technology for some years now and one to watch is certainly Uber, a company creating an infrastructure that’s perfect for shared and autonomous driving.
Mercedes Benz sees this trend as significant and at Frankfurt, laid out plans in a big way including its intention to develop a self-driving fleet of limousines.
CEO Dieter Zetsche even suggested that the Mercedes-Benz of the future will not be a car company but a “Connected Mobility Services Provider” which demonstrates the scale and impact digital technology will continue to have.
Autonomous Driving, while still in its infancy, is certain to be the future of driving and the coming years will be interesting in seeing how demands around infrastructure and policy play out.
Selling the sizzle
One of the key points of any major Motor Show is how to get your news bubbling up to the top of all the noise, and at this year’s show the car companies have been embracing social media and digital experiences in a big way to get their news far and wide.
For example Lamborghini used Periscope to to live launch the new Huracan Spyder and Toyota has integrated a live StoryStream into its European websites creating a visual content hub combining social and brand content from the show.
The other aspect is the physical scale and size of the manufacturer stands, which include space for driving cars (inside!), projection mapping, walls of LED screens and much more. This is the car industry making a big splash and a big statement.
In my view, the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show represents a watershed moment in the car industry. Rather than turning away and burying heads in the sand, the majority of car makers are recognising the huge cultural and economic shifts occurring best typified by the growing sharing economy.
With the tech giants hot on the auto industry heels much of the future is up-for-grabs.
It is very much a time to innovate or die and we are going to see new business models and approaches that challenge how we view personal transport. In 20 years time it will be interesting to see which auto manufacturers remain and in what guise.
One thing is for sure, the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show marked the turning point.