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Automakers aren't a trend at CES anymore — they're here to stay

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Cars are giant gadgets

When I touched down in Las Vegas yesterday for this year's Consumer Electronics Show, one of the first things I noticed was the Renaissance Hotel, a modern mid-rise that lies just south of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Each year, it's covered in an enormous vinyl wrap advertising something CES-related: a television, a tablet, a mobile phone company. It's prime real estate to showcase a hot product from the company that shells out top dollar to turn the Renaissance into a billboard for the week.

But one way or another, it's always been a tech product. This year, I was surprised to see a giant ad for the BMW i3 and i8 instead.

It's tempting to suggest that this is a new trend, but it's not

It's tempting to suggest that CES has suddenly transformed into a car show, or that this is a new trend. It's not. Make no mistake, CES is a car show — dozens of car companies and automotive suppliers will be making news here in the Nevada desert over the course of the next seven days — but that's been happening for years. Last year, Ford showed its 2015 Mustang in public for the very first time at CES. Former General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner keynoted the show some seven years ago. In fact, he used that keynote to introduce a concept car — the Cadillac Provoq, a hydrogen-powered SUV that foreshadowed the current generation Cadillac SRX (albeit without the hydrogen part).

CES cars

Las Vegas' Renaissance Hotel, covered top to bottom in BMW advertising.

What is new, perhaps, is the permanence and totality with which the auto industry has declared CES its own. It's no longer a "trend," in the parlance of a journalist or analyst — it's simply part of the show's DNA, the same way televisions and home theater systems are. The lot in front of the Convention Center, where The Verge's temporary headquarters is located, is peppered with car companies: Visteon and Volkswagen are just next door, while BMW has staked out an enormous complex further south. (It's essentially the same complex BMW had last year, but with a new annex devoted to its high-performance M division.) The centerpiece of NVIDIA's parking lot exhibit will be the Renovo Coupe, not Android devices or GPUs. CES isn't an occasional destination for the odd car company looking to make granular, tech-focused news — it's officially part of the annual show circuit, same as Detroit, New York, Geneva, or Frankfurt. BMW's 12-story billboard, lording over the Convention Center grounds, may make that point more clearly than anything we'll see on stage this week.

After all, cars are giant gadgets, filled with smaller ones. For so many of them to be an integral part of CES — the biggest gadget show of the year — seems only fitting.

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