CES preview: Auto players offer a glimpse of the future – Automotive News

Posted: Monday, January 04, 2016

The production version of the Chevrolet Bolt, caught during a photo shoot in California, is to be unveiled this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show.


As the unlucky souls in Las Vegas know well, predicting the future is a crapshoot.

Automotive giants such as General Motors and Volkswagen will do their best at the CES technology expo there this week, staking chips on an electrified, software-driven future in which cars are seamlessly connected to homes, smartphones and one another.

GM plans to show the production version of its all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, boasting a 200-mile-plus range on a charge, as CEO Mary Barra gives a keynote address on Wednesday, Jan. 6, at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

A day earlier, Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess will introduce a prototype of an electrified version of the iconic Microbus. The concept foreshadows a modular toolkit that Volkswagen Group has designed for compact electric cars across its brands, with a range of 250 to 500 kilometers, or 155 to 310 miles, to a charge.

Painting an enthralling picture of the future is key for Volkswagen, which is struggling to regain its footing after admitting that 11 million of its diesel-powered cars were designed to cheat on government emissions tests. Even the V-12-powered Phaeton sedan once championed by then-Chairman Ferdinand Piech is now being re-envisioned as a long-distance EV with cutting-edge electronic driver aids.

“The future is electric,” VW said in October as it announced the Phaeton plans.

Self-driving showcase

Automakers and suppliers have long used CES to highlight advances in automated driving, and this year is no different, with suppliers such as Bosch, Nvidia and Valeo showcasing further steps toward the self-driving car. And Ford’s Jan. 5 press conference may offer an update on its talks with Google on a self-driving-car venture.

Kia, which plans to spend $2 billion by 2018 with sibling brand Hyundai to develop the technology, plans to share details on its research at CES. The companies have a shared goal of selling cars with sophisticated autopilot systems by 2020 and fully autonomous vehicles by 2030.

Toyota said this fall that it plans to spend $1 billion through 2020 on artificial-intelligence research at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Gill Pratt, the Pentagon researcher hired to run Toyota’s robotics program, is scheduled to share details on the research during a Jan. 5 press conference.

Delphi, which is supplying a vehicle-to-vehicle communications feature in the forthcoming 2017 Cadillac CTS, plans to show a prototype vehicle in Las Vegas that talks to devices from streetlights to smartphones.

“The car is easily the most sophisticated piece of electronics that you own,” Jeff Owens, chief technology officer at Delphi, told reporters last month. “It’s becoming that more and more.”

Even so, it’s a gamble.

Delphi first went to Las Vegas for CES in 1996 — two years after its formation as GM’s components division — with a concept car crammed full of technology that seemed poised for widespread adoption. Owens said 60 percent of the features did become common in cars, including automatic braking, Bluetooth and navigation, but the others, including one-way messaging to the mobile pagers then in vogue, did not.

Bygone buttons

Other companies will showcase advances in the interfaces that are replacing hard knobs and buttons in modern cars.

The consultancy IHS Automotive forecasts that the market for displays will grow to $18.6 billion in 2021. And that includes only infotainment, instrument clusters and head-up displays — not cutting-edge gadgets such as digital rearview mirrors, gesture control or electronic displays built into climate-control vents.

It’s no longer enough for a car simply to have a navigation system or an interface for smartphone apps, Mark Boyadjis, a senior analyst at IHS, told reporters last month.

“Now it’s about which system is easiest to use, which one has the least distraction and which one is easiest to learn,” Boyadjis said. “Those are the things that make or break a system.”

David Sedgwick contributed to this report.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.


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