PDT an Astronics Company: Product Design and Development Firm in Chicago, IL


Ladies and gentlemen,

2018 Auto Show Trend Report

We’ve walked the Detroit and Chicago Auto Shows for the tenth time in a decade and have come back with photos and thoughts we’re happy to share with you here. From control to power, forms to function, we proudly present our report on the 2018 Auto Show Trends.


The average number of connected devices (smartphones, laptops, wearables, etc each digital consumer owns. (2016 GlobalWebIndex survey)


USB chargers were prolific, however they were all quite uninspired.

Interesting to see the placement choices for USB ports. Some were obviously thought-out, others...not so much.

No need to bring special cables for the car. Plug right in.

You may have some very unhappy back passengers when their device batteries die and there’s nowhere to plug in.

There’s not a whole lot of wireless inductive charging out there yet, but we think it will increase in line with the number of devices that are able to accept it. It’s interesting to see the iconography used to mark the charging pads. Many look like pocket change bins; are the stickers enough for users to know what these spaces are for?

What role will

play in delivering content to devices powered in next generation vehicles? We think it’s a great technological fit within the automotive (and airplane) cabin, especially as autonomous tech allows us to take our hands off the wheel and pay even more attention to our devices.

The presence of Electric Vehicles and the technology to support them grows every year. Our eyes remain on the infrastructure being built to support this movement and the inevitable connection to smart cities around the world.


...interestingly enough were not a major focus at the auto shows. In fact, the Consumer Electronics Show covered the topic more deeply (visit our trend report from the CES 2018 show here).



Why is that? Are auto manufacturers more focused on implementing in-vehicle technologies without thinking more broadly? Are they developing and planning behind the scenes but not talking much about it? Or are they not thinking it will have a major impact on what consumers will demand in the future? The data shows that this movement is gaining speed...

“The benefits of smart cities are manifold, but—almost universally—the starting point for smart city projects is transportation. Why? In most cases, city dwellers’ number one issue is transportation and traffic congestion. From a policy and funding standpoint it’s a natural fit.”


Research firm IHS predicts there will be at least 88 smart cities worldwide by 2025.

of the world’s population will reportedly live in cities - an estimated 7.2 billion people.






A huge market is here.

Why was it largely ignored?




What’s driving the placement and action to start the car? Is it still in this place because that’s where people expect it to be?



Who doesn’t appreciate a little more space to stash stuff?

A few headrests with integrated speakers were spotted, some just for the driver, some for both the driver and front passenger – are the back passengers forgotten again?

Vents aren’t needed on the BMW i3 Electric vehicle, so why still have a front end reminiscent of a gas-powered vehicle? Is other technology integrated and hidden in these details? Can the brand language be honored in a different way.

All digital instrument cluster with parts that are actually physical.






These headlights weren’t an afterthought.

This Toyota concept feautures a multi-hatch rear door; splits to swing open or pull for a one-piece liftgate.

These interesting LED treatments add interest and texture.


Most exciting color palette at the show courtesy of BMW.

Orange typically represents enthusiasm, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, and stimulation. No wonder it was an eye popping focus at the auto show.


This year marked a significant milestone for automakers from Eastern countries, as it was the first time they had a large enough presence to make attendees notice and (we think) make competitors a little nervous.

China’s GAC displayed vehicles poised to compete with all of the big guys, including a sleek concept car that can be taken seriously.

20 years ago, Kia and Hyundai were just getting rolling in a market with brands that had already built loyal customers. KIa’s strategy was to build a team of industry veteran designers to capture market share. They’re now competing with Mercedes and other luxury brands but delivering at a lower price.

How do long-standing brands respond to these automotive startups?


This year they reminded us of their long heritage and influence on Amercian culture. They pulled on our heartstrings by reminding us of our childhoods. But will nostalgia ultimately be enough?



With all of the new functionality that’s been added to vehicles over the last decade, how to control all of those features is a challenge designers are trying to elegantly solve with buttons, touchscreens, trackpads and more.





Over the past

Knobs, dials and buttons were used to control in-auto features.



or so, touchscreens have been added in varying levels of  integration with traditional controls.

After seeing all things Alexa and Hey Google at CES 2018, will we see more voice control?

The Buick Riviera boasted the first touchscreen “Graphic Control Center” in a car.

Some say touchscreens make autos more dangerous.

Some say touchscreens are the only control autos should integrate.

...and beyond


When will all controls go away and Artificial Intelligence will sense that you just left the gym and want the air conditioning blasting and drive you home while playing relaxing music to transition you from a tough workout to a relaxing end to the night.



an estimated 95% of new vehicles sold will be fully autonomous.


Is the increasing touchscreen integration preparing us for being hands-free in the car? How will control change as we no longer have to control the driving, just the infotainment?

The number of buttons and controls isn’t decreasing in some autos even with the integration of screens. Do we not want to cut the cord, are some things just better controlled with tactile controls... or is this out of control?

For some manufacturers, the answer seems to be to add more screens.

While others experiment with track pads.

Some go wide, others place screens high on the dash... you can’t miss them, but does that make them better?

And still others just add more and more screens across the dash.

Manufacturers are taking a variety of approaches, showing no perfect solution is out there yet when it comes to combining controls for all of the new functionality that’s been added over the last decade.


Sometimes it's pretty simple.

Imagine a table with designers, marketers and UX pros around the table as photos from the auto show are reviewed.


“And this one,” one team member half-giggles, “granted, this is a wide truck, but are 3 cupholders really needed?”



“Um, actually,” another person says, “cupholders are a big thing with me. I want coffee and water for my trips, plus I have my kids’ stuff in my vehicle...this actually makes me really happy.” (silly smile)


“Don’t you remember the Cadillac commercial that said cupholders are one of the main reasons some people choose one vehicle over the other?”



Henry Petroski, Professor of Engineering and History at Duke University, North Carolina, wrote an article for Slate Magazine a decade ago in which he reported that he “repeatedly heard articulate people say that their family’s latest automobile purchase hinged on which cup holders worked best for them.”



While many women and men make vehicle purchase decisions on features well beyond cupholders, the lesson remains: don’t assume value based only on your experience. Do the research, know your market, and realize that sometimes technologically complex features aren’t the ones with the most appeal.



The Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept car first caught our eyes for its incredible satin chrome rose gold paint, but our admiration of its details and features didn’t end there.




Stunning styling

Well integrated infotainment

Digital side-view monitors

4D navigation

LED lighting surrounding the grille for signaling

Automated parking

Touch-sensitive capacitive steering

Gesture-based input system





And it’s beautiful.






Or want to talk to a team member? Contact us.


Contributors: Gil Cavada, George Guffey, Erik Moses, Nicole Byer, Jake Vail

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