The LA Auto Show has a unique position in the automotive industry. It’s annually the first major new car showcase of the season, but it’s held at least one calendar year behind the model years of debuting vehicles.

The LA Auto features global debuts of new cars as well as concepts
The LA Auto features global debuts of new cars as well as concepts. All images © James Raia

The oddity is representative of the industry at-large. New car models were once almost always announced in late summer or early fall. Now, with increased competition, many 2017 vehicles have been available for months. They’re released when manufacturers believe the timing is right to best challenge rivals.

At the Los Angeles show, scheduled Nov. 14-27, including three media-only days, 2017 and 2018 models will be unveiled. But how vehicles will operate and interact with our lifestyles as far into to the future as 2050 will part of the expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The Design and Developer Challenge is part of the three-day, newly named AutoMobility LA. It replaces the previous Advanced Technology Showcase and Car Connected Expo and will be held Nov. 14-17 during the more than century-old show’s press and trade days.

The public automotive showcase of more than 60 global and North American vehicle debuts, still called the Los Angeles Auto Show, will be held Nov. 18-27, including on Thanksgiving, Nov. 24.

A vast increase in automotive technology in the past few years — autonomous vehicles to flying cars to connectivity advances — prompted the name change and an increased focus on technology.

Although the Design and Developer Challenge has been part of the show for more than a decade, this year is the debut of a team competition. The idea is to partner companies from primary focuses of Southern California businesses — automotive, technology and entertainment.

Bryan Biniak, an entrepreneur in residence at Nokia Growth Partners in Palo Alto, solicited the teams, including the pairing of Jaunt, the virtual design company, also headquartered in Palo Alto, and Fandango, the Los Angeles-based online movie ticket-selling company.

“It’s basically to take a look at what the future of self-guided cars might look like,” said Christine Young, the Jaunt studio coordinator of the project’s design and video shoot in Santa Monica “Since neither of the companies is privy to automotive insights, we thought ‘Why don’t we take a look at how entertainment will be changed auto-guided cars.’ ”

“What would a simple movie date night in look like? What if these self-driving cars became completely immersed in the actual date night opposed to just being a means to and end?”

The result is what the Jaunt-Fandango team envisions as what the typical movie date night might be like about 33 years into the future.

If the team’s idea comes to fruition, the passengers in a self-driving car would go to a movie and become part of a virtual reality experience. Movies would be custom tailored to the consumer, including perhaps driving through the film trailer.

Current automotive technology and innovation will comprise the majority of the Los Angeles Auto Show. Entry level sub-compacts to supercars and luxury SUVs to family sedans will shine. But the future of cars, without or without drivers, and how they’re part of the future world will also have its place.

Teams in the Design and Developer Challenge will present their visions to the public in Hollywood fashion, with representative movie billboards, videos, and a judges’ panel, maybe not too dissimilar from critics viewing the nominations in a mini-Academy Awards process.

“We want to think about ideas and technology the automotive lawyers haven’t already studied,” said Biniak. “But at the same time, the innovation has to be at least feasible by 2050.”

Ticket information and additional Los Angeles Auto Show details are available via telephone, (310) 444-1850 or on the website, www.laautoshow.com.

(Originally published 11/13/2016 in the San Jose Mercury News and East Bay Times.)

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