I’ve taken a bit of time to reflect on my experience over the past two weeks at CES and Auto Show.

The sequential timing of the shows this year was challenging. I am curious about what is going on behind the scenes with the planning teams for both shows. Will the shows be held during the first two weeks of January 2018 or will they get smart and collaborate on timing to attract more automotive attendees out to the desert? Schedules aside, it was a wonderful experience and I am energized about the future of the mobility business and the challenges ahead!

We find ourselves at unique moment in time to work on wicked problems for drivers and passengers. The trending for autonomous vehicles continues to pick up pace and it will not be long before we are able to call up a guided vehicle to make our way from point A to point B. The real work is just beginning…

CES 2017 Las Vegas…

We had an interesting Uber ride from our hotel to CES one morning. The driver was curious about our business and what attracted us to the show. The discussion quickly moved into the topic of autonomous vehicles and his concerns about the elimination of jobs and the infrastructure required to support these vehicles on the busy streets of Las Vegas. Although I did not offer an opinion about the elimination of jobs for drivers, his comment on the infrastructure prompted some deep thinking about where this is all going. There are parallels to the development of autonomous vehicles to the early days of the railroad industry. The early railroad entrepreneurs envisioned the concept of a network of rails interconnected across the span of our country and then went about the tough work of building the network, the engines and passenger compartments to comfortably (or not) convey people and freight from point A to point B and beyond. The technology exists now to pilot guided vehicles. The challenge will be adapting or converting our infrastructure for the technology, especially in urban areas.

There is a wonderful opportunity for the car companies and suppliers to present innovation and gather feedback at CES. There really is no other venue that covers the range of product categories offered in Las Vegas.

BMW (photo above), Hyundai, Mobis and Toyota all show-cased creative, physical studies for the adaptation and evolution of the interior in an autonomous vehicle. These leading innovation companies have the resources and teams (internal and external talent) to aggressively move the dial on this area of study.

For design and engineering teams working on future initiatives, the fundamentals will always apply. In the design of automotive interiors, we must start with humans (of course), study the behaviors, needs and desires of drivers and passengers, research current and emerging technologies and then go to work to design and engineer interiors and seating to “suprise and delight” our customers. No one company or group will have all of the right answers. The next 3-5 years will be a push into new concepts and solutions around the convergence of humans, technology and infrastructure. It’s a very exciting point in time and we are positive about the future for increased safety, a reduced impact on our environment (less cars roaming the streets and highways), and development opportunities for workers across the spectrum of jobs.

Onto the NAIAS Autoshow in Detroit…

One of the best concepts at both shows was the Yanfeng XiM17 (eXperience in Motion) vehicle interior concept developed by the company’s in-house, Holland, Michigan Innovation Studio. In interest of full disclosure, we’ve worked with many of the talented designers and engineers at Yanfeng for decades. We were not involved in this project.

Yanfeng was formed via a joint venture with Johnson Controls announced in July 2015. In the past, Yanfeng has presented their products and concepts every other year at the Auto Show. We have been informed that they will now present every year. This is wonderful news given the pace of development and emerging trends in the car business.

The Yanfeng design and engineering team focused their efforts on multi-use modes for the occupants of an autonomous vehicle. Their story telling via a brief presentation was concise and engaging. The story centered on humans and how we all will use the interior space and environment when liberated from driving. They did their homework with the end-users and even included a mode for business use. All of this is coming from a very lean team fighting the commercial challenges of the Tier One supplier environment.

The show space for Yanfeng is a private showroom accessible by invitation only. The place was packed with OEM customers and the investment will pay dividends in new business for Yanfeng. The value of lessons learned from customer feedback cannot be calculated. Excellent work and congratulations to the extended Yanfeng Team!

The Auto Show continues to evolve every year. It’s a great time to be in the market for a new car or a new truck. The tricky part is figuring out exactly what you want to buy. There is a sea of sameness out there. Even when you are brand loyal (which I am, for sure), most of the companies continue to offer a lineup that is too broad and confusing . I am still getting used to the 2 series from BMW. Why did the 3 series morph into a larger car and what is the difference between a 4 series and the old 5 series? The competition will heat up even more as the forecasts for units sold begin to settle at lower levels. Competition has a way of sharpening strategy maps and improving execution, even in the largest corporations.

The minimal number of innovative demonstrators on the show floor in Detroit was striking. It seems that a big opportunity to gather insights from the marketplace was missed when most of the car companies decided to focus on new production vehicles this year. This is probably based on the forecasts for a tightening market over the next several years and the demands on publicly traded corporations for positive Q results. If we were asked for our advice, we would encourage the car companies to invest consistently in show content and demonstrators to gather unbiased feedback and share the insights with the broader community.

We welcome your comments on this article. Thanks for your time and interest in our insights!

Maury Fredricks


Fredricks Design, Inc.

Fredricks Design, Inc. is a full-service design and engineering firm based in Grand Haven, Michigan. The firm specializes in working as an extension of the client studio and engineering team to identify the right problems and accelerate development of solutions from early ideation , feasibility, concept development and production of mock-ups, prototypes and show properties. Fredricks focuses on key Clients in the automotive interiors and seating, advanced rides and show action projects for themed attractions, furniture, and consumer products markets.


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