GM, Google, others join retreat from CES over rising COVID-19 cases

The Waymo logo is displayed during the company's unveil of a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit
FILE PHOTO: The Waymo logo is displayed during the company's unveil of a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

December 23, 2021

By Paresh Dave and Ben Klayman

(Reuters) -U.S. automaker General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and its self-driving auto-technology company Waymo on Thursday joined the companies no longer attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in person early next month due to rising COVID-19 infections.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra had been scheduled to give a keynote speech at the annual conference on Jan. 5, during which the company would have shown its electric Silverado pickup truck for the first time. Barra will still make the speech and presentation remotely, a spokesman said.

“We have decided to move to an all-digital approach with our activation at CES 2022 in January,” the U.S. automaker said in a statement. “We are continuing with our plans on Jan. 5 to share our significant company news, including the reveal of the Chevrolet Silverado EV.”

A Google spokesperson said in a statement: “After careful consideration we have decided to withhold from having a presence on the show floor of CES 2022,” adding that Google would continue to “identify and support virtual opportunities.”

Waymo said in a blog post that it hopes to participate virtually if possible at the Las Vegas event, which traditionally has drawn over 180,000 people from around the world to discuss emerging technologies and party through the night with business contacts.

ByteDance-owned TikTok said it would hold a virtual event for partners and advertisers. Also on Thursday, Intel Corp said it would minimize staffing at CES.

“The health and safety of our employees, partners and customers  is  always a top priority,” the chipmaker said. “Our plans for CES will move to a digital-first, live experience, with minimal on-site staff.”

Several other companies, including Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc, Twitter Inc, Lenovo Group, AT&T Inc and Amazon.com Inc dropped in-person attendance plans earlier this week, saying they would not send employees out of caution over the spread of Omicron.

CES officials said the event will still be held in person from Jan. 5-8 with “strong safety measures in place,” including vaccination requirements, masking and availability of COVID-19 tests.

“Our mission remains to convene the industry and give those who cannot attend in person the ability to experience the magic of CES digitally,” CES said in a statement. “CES 2022 will go forward as important innovation for world health and safety, mobility and solving problems will be exhibited.”

It added that while it had received 42 exhibitor cancellations since last Thursday, that was less than 7% of the exhibitor floor and 60 others had been added.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 was first detected last month in Hong Kong and southern Africa, sparking global concerns about a fast-spreading new version of the virus. Coronavirus infections have soared wherever highly infectious Omicron has spread, triggering new restrictions in many countries.

(Reporting by Paresh Dave and Ben Klayman; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford and Stephen Nellis; Editing by Mark Porter, Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)