Mobility Innovation and Tech Startups Take Stage at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show

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The 2018 North American International Auto Show is transforming. Classic automotive is making wave for future mobility: the fusion of software and services with manufactured vehicles. Nearly 200 brands, across industry incumbents, outside entrants, and emerging entrants demoed their technology. Read on for why this matters and the changes I saw at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show.

Techstars Mobility on the main press stage at 2018 North American International Auto Show
On the main press stage, myself with the CEOs of Spatial, SEEVA, and Cargo at the 2018 North American International Auto Show

Detroit is transforming from the Motor City to the Mobility City. And one of the most significant auto shows in the world is going under the same transformation. Nearly 800,000 watched the future of mobility unfold in Detroit.

The North American International Auto Show (aka, NAIAS, aka the Detroit Auto Show) hosted its 2nd year of AutoMobili-D. This exhibit combines startups and technologies changing the future of automotive and transportation. AutoMobili-D featured nearly 200 different brands with 54 startups, along with global automakers, suppliers, universities and government organizations.

On the startup front, 54 startups from 11 countries were in attendance. This was a 39% increase over 2017, the inaugural year of AutoMobili-D. For a full list of these startups and stats check out this post I wrote.

Why This Matters

The future of automotive and transportation is mobility. Mobility is the fusion of manufactured steel with software and services. Mobility enables people and goods to move more freely from point A to point B. It’s the automotive industry adding a layer of software and services to enable new ways to get around, like a car that drives itself or transportation on demand.

The disruption of the automotive industry is coming from three areas:

  1. Industry incumbents: the global OEMs and suppliers that defined the industry are working to redefine it
  2. Outside entrants: global companies entering the automotive mobility space like Intel, Nvidia, Google, and Apple.
  3. Emerging entrants: startups around the world with fresh perspectives looking to disrupt the entire industry through new business models and technologies

The Detroit Auto Show created AutoMobili-D to capture the attention of #2 and #3 above. It already had the attention of #1.

And the fastest growing segment? Emerging entrants—those global startups that are upending the entire industry almost overnight. Uber and Lyft were both young startups only 7-9 years ago. With 100s of new mobility startups around the world, which ones will be next to drive massive transformation across the industry?

Seeing the Change

Technology startups are dominating AutoMobili-D. In the second year, AutoMobili-D expanded 30,000 sq ft to 150,000 sq ft, nearly maxing out the entire floor space. Almost 30% of the exhibitors were technology startups.

And what about the rest of the auto show? The main press stage and the main auto show? Well, startups are slowly invading that space too.

2018 was the first year ever that technology startups took the main press stage at NAIAS. Following press announcements from global organizations like Intel, Blackberry, and Magna, three Techstars Mobility startups took the press stage:

  • Spatial announced a new partnership with Ford City Solutions
  • Less than 3 months after completing Techstars Mobility, SEEVA announced $1.1M in seed funding led by Trucks Venture Capital
  • Cargo announced that over 1M rideshare riders have engaged with their platform in the 7 months since launch and the following week announced $5.5m in funding

2018 was the also the first year ever that a startup demoed its technology on the main auto show floor. May Mobility, demoed it’s self-driving vehicle right next to the Mercedes and Cadillac exhibits.

May Mobility at 2018 Detroit Auto Show
Startup May Mobility demoed its technology on the main auto show floor in 2018, the first time ever for a startup at the show

Looking Forward

“Detroit,” as in the automotive centric usage of the word, is waking up to innovation at its earliest stages. It’s not just the OEMs and suppliers dominating the landscape anymore. But it’s emerging startups around the world.

I can’t wait to see what the 3rd year of AutoMobili-D has in store. 2019 is going to be great.

I predict that within 10 years those cars we see on the main auto show floor will be downstairs. And that mobility innovation technology and emerging startups will be upstairs.

The conversation and perception surrounding Detroit are changing.

Detroit is becoming the Mobility City.


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