Updated 17 minutes ago
Self-driving cars whiz past the David L. Lawrence Convention in Downtown every day.
But there won’t be any inside when the Pittsburgh International Auto Show opens Friday.
John Putzier, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association, which puts on the show, said he has reached out for the last two years to the autonomous car companies in town, Carnegie Mellon University and Google to see if they wanted to showcase their cars at an event expected to attract 50,000 people.
“They just are not interested in exhibiting,” Putzier said.
Putzier said this year he even offered to donate enough space for the cars to drive in circles or do other maneuvers to showcase self-driving capabilities. The lack of interest has left Putzier wondering if self-driving car companies see value in car shows like the one in Pittsburgh.
“They just seem to be in a different place,” Putzier said.
Pittsburgh is an epicenter of autonomous vehicle technology. Researchers at CMU pioneered work on self-driving cars in the 1980s. Caterpillar opened an engineering enter in 2007 to work with CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center on autonomous trucks and equipment for mining. Companies like Carnegie Robotics have worked on self-driving technologies for the military, agriculture and other industries for nearly a decade.
In 2016, Uber’s fleet of self-driving cars appeared on Pittsburgh’s streets. Since then, Aptiv, Argo AI and Aurora Innovation have started testing autonomous vehicles in the city.
But none will be at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show. The companies told the Tribune-Review they don’t see the auto show as the right venue for their technology at this time.
“Auto shows are meant to give consumers a chance to see, touch and experience the vehicles and technology that they can purchase or use today or the near future,” said Alan Hall, a spokesman for Ford, which invested $1 billion in Argo AI to have the company develop self-driving technology for its cars. “We’re still a little ways away from autonomous vehicles being available to the public so we don’t want to overpromise on their accessibility just yet.”
Ford focused on self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart cities at CES, the consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas in January. But at the North American International Auto Show later that month in Detroit, Ford and other car makers appeared to push their self-driving cars aside in favor of traditional trucks, cars and SUVs.
Aptiv, the self-driving and automotive technology company that spun off from Delphi last year, had a fleet of self-driving BMWs giving rides up and down the Las Vegas Strip at CES. Aptiv’s presence at the auto show in Detroit was muted compared to that.
Zach Peterson, a spokesman for Aptiv, said auto shows are typically spaces for the major car manufacturers. Aptiv, though, hasn’t ruled out participating in the Pittsburgh auto show in the future. Hall said Ford and Argo could be at the show in the future too.
But right now, testing trumps everything, people at several self-driving companies said.
Sterling Anderson, chief product officer at Aurora Innovation, said the company has to turn down many of the invitations it gets to show off its technology.
“We try to focus our finite bandwidth on developing the technology and helping our partners bring it to market,” Anderson said.
Hall at Ford agreed. He said testing is Argo AI’s priority. Taking a car off the road to display it at show means that car and its pricey autonomous technology isn’t being tested, Hall said.
CMU researchers don’t typically go to auto shows, said Raj Rajkumar, a professor in electrical and computer engineering who works on self-driving cars. The university’s self-driving Cadillac was at the Washington Auto Show in 2017 because the National Science Foundation is a partial sponsor of work on the car. Rajkumar has been to the auto show in Detroit and Stan Caldwell, executive director of CMU’s Traffic21 research institute, was there this year.
“The Pittsburgh auto show is a great opportunity to showcase current commercial technology to potential consumers in our region,” Caldwell wrote. “Traditionally, the Detroit auto show is the venue with the national and international spotlight for the auto industry to launch new concepts and technology.”
While Putzier wanted to showcase Pittsburgh’s self-driving efforts, he agreed that the show really is about cars that people can buy. He hopes people visit the show to shop for cars without worrying about a salesperson pressuring them to buy.
And even though there won’t be any cars with LiDAR units on top that look like spinning buckets for fried chicken or cameras mounted on every corner, there is plenty to see, Putzier said. Ford will have its F-150 Police Responder, the first pursuit-rated pickup truck for police and a GT X1. Lamborghini, Ferrari, McLaren and others will have super cars on display. A James Bond Aston Martin will be there and a Nissan Altima, if you’re in the market for either.
The Pittsburgh International Auto Show opens Friday at 10 a.m. and runs through Monday, closing at 6 p.m. General admission is $12, with discounts for children, seniors and military service members.