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The Future of Mobility Landed in Detroit (and it is not a Meteor)

The relatively slow (28,000 mph) meteor seen across six U.S. states and Canada on Tuesday night was not the only news headline featuring Southeast Michigan this week.  The 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) opened its doors for media and industry experts on Sunday and will be open to the public on Saturday.

Now in its second year at NAIAS, automotive experts have the opportunity to gather and discuss about the future of mobility at Automobili-D, an international platform that brings together automakers, suppliers, tech startups as well as universities and government organizations.

I was able to participate in one of the symposiums on Mobility City – featuring experts like Kevin Kerrigan, Senior VP for Automotive Initiatives with the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and Carla Bailo, President and CEO of the Center for Automotive Research (CAR). The panelists discussed how technology, and simulation in particular, offer a phenomenal opportunity to provide better, more sustainable mobility. Getting there will take intense planning and an unprecedented cooperation between the automakers, regulators, and technology providers. At Altair, we are ready to take on this new challenge by helping our customers with a complete set of solutions specifically developed for e-mobility.

This challenge is becoming an opportunity for a new breed of tech startups offering new mobility products and services, ranging from self-driving vehicles to car-sharing, from navigation apps to SaaS mobility services. 57 companies from 11 countries were featured in the techSTARS exhibition. We wish them best of luck and promise full support through Altair’s startups program.

Moving to the main hall at NAIAS 2018, where automakers are showing off their latest products, the main theme remains the same.

Even more so than in the past, everyone’s attention this year is on more efficient, lightweight products.  Automakers like FCA, with the Jeep Cherokee 2019 facelift, are shaving weight off vehicles and adopting more modern engines (a new 2.0 L, 4 cylinder turbo-charged engine is now available on several Alfa Romeo and Jeep models).

While we may still see gas-powered engines around for a while, electric power is a consolidated reality, which in many cases require a complete redesign of the entire powertrain system, like with ZF’s 8-Speed Plug-In Hybrid Transmission.

This attention to efficiency and lightweight design includes one of Detroit’s Auto Show staples: full-size pickup trucks. It’s not a coincidence that the all-new 2018 Ram 1500 took this year’s “Best of Show” award. Overall weight for the Ram 1500 has been reduced by 225 pounds, all while increasing overall stiffness and durability.

It might be worth reminding that Ford won the 2015 Enlighten Award with their full-size truck, the new F-150 and now FCA has another great contender after winning last year’s edition. Nominations for the 2018 award are open and we’ll know the winners by the end of June.

Auto shows are also the place where automakers get an opportunity to explore new design trends and see how the public reacts to concepts containing cues on future production vehicles.

This year’s theme could be summarized in “Fun and SUV”. Among others, Volkswagen, Toyota, and Nissan presented their interpretation of your next not-so-much-soccer-mom-anymore SUVs. An unlikely contender in this category was GAG, a new Chinese automaker that’s planning to enter the U.S. market in the coming months. It will be interesting to see how the plan develops.

After talking about so many vehicles, you may wonder which one is my “Best of Show”. This year my personal preference goes to the vintage C/K 10 brought in by Chevrolet to celebrate 100 years of Chevy trucks.

In my opinion, it represents well the pickup truck showdown at this year’s Auto Show and reminds us that – today like 50 years ago – these vehicles are part of our culture. While in the not-so-far future we may be using different means of transportation, cars will likely remain part of the collective imagination for much longer than we thought. For petrol heads like myself, cruising in one of these around town is always going to be fun!