2021 CES will go all-digital due to ongoing coronavirus concerns

Sven Gustafson

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To the ever-growing list of auto shows, live vehicle unveilings and other in-person fixtures of the automotive calendar that have fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic, add the 2021 CES. Organizers said Tuesday the annual tech (and automotive tech) confab in Las Vegas will move to an all-digital format in January over concerns about public health.

Of course, there’s something very meta about an event focused on cutting-edge consumer technology going virtual, and it should be second nature for most exhibitors to make the switch. Automakers this year have become adept at unveiling new models online, sometimes enlisting their social media channels or, in the case of Ford and the Bronco family, cable TV and streaming services.

There are few concrete details about how it will all work, however, but it figures to be housed on the CES website. Will people need to buy tickets to “attend” virtual exhibits? Will the exhibits and presentations be archived for viewing later? All are left unanswered, but the parent organization is talking a good game, spinning it as “the next phase of our evolution.”

“For CES, the pandemic gives us an opportunity to reimagine how we use our platform to bring out community together in a meaningful way and enable our exhibitors to meet their customers and to reach new audiences,” Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which stages CES, said in a video statement accompanying the announcement.

“Moving to an all-digital format for CES is simply the right thing to do. Our exhibitors, partners and thought leaders will now have the time to plan, to think, to create compelling ways to engage digital audiences from around the world.”

CES in recent years has been attracting more and more OEMs and auto suppliers, with a heavy focus on far-out technologies like flying cars, the latest in autonomous driving systems and in-car infotainment advances. But there are also some big vehicle reveals. This year’s showcase in January featured a Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid, a concept car from Sony and the futuristic "Avatar"-inspired Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR concept. We’ll see if the move to a digital format dampens participation from automotive companies in next year’s CES, which will stick with its original Jan. 6-9, 2021 schedule.

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