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The convergence of auto and tech is changing big automotive industry events as mobility technologies increasingly share the limelight with cars.

“Technology is here to stay,” said Rod Alberts, Executive Director of the North American International Auto Show, observing the number of tech startups at the annual event in Detroit last month. “The mobility world, and our car shows, have changed a lot.” High tech and hands-on experiences like driving simulators and virtual reality demonstrations featured prominently at the show.

At the same time, there are fewer cars. This is due to the departure of brands like Saab, Scion, Mercury and Pontiac, and to carmakers like General Motors and Ford cutting back on their line-ups. Alberts estimates that the global car population which spanned 50 brands and 350 models 10 years ago has shrunk by as much as 20%. The importance of automotive industry events has also diminished somewhat with regard to new model introductions, since shorter lead times and social media now allow them to take place year-round.

Car shows still draw large crowds, however. According to Foresight Research, an estimated 11 million attended the country’s 55 car shows last year, not counting classic auto and specialty exhibits. The Detroit show’s attendance reportedly reached 774,000, only slightly down from the previous year. “It’s true the shows are evolving – but in a positive way,” said Jennifer Colman, president of the Automotive Trade Association Executives.

Two years ago the Detroit show teamed up with PlanetM, an initiative that fosters emerging mobility technologies. The New York Times reported that this year, 149 tech startups and other technology companies were present at the Detroit show. “It’s a chance to expose new companies and technologies to potential investors and the traditional automotive world,” said Trevor Pawl, Group Vice President of PlanetM.

The transformation was also evident at AutoMobility LA, the big annual auto show in Los Angeles, which merged with Connected Car Expo in 2016. At the November 2018 event, it became one of the first to address the convergence of auto and tech, and offer public forums to discuss related issues. “We’re in a time of change in how we look at the whole future of transportation,” said Kimberly Marte, a member of the show’s design panel. “The L.A. show reflected that, and it gave the event a lot of weight.”

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