With the deepening integration of motor vehicles and computers, it was only a matter of time before automakers would be making news outside of their traditional venues. It used to be that new vehicle models, concept cars and those “wow” type show cars would be introduced in an auto show venue in Los Angeles, New York, Detroit or Chicago. Even their most customized and/or tricked out vehicles usually were displayed at the large SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) show in Las Vegas every fall, but not any more. Or I should say, not any more exclusively.
This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (also held in Las Vegas by the way), was the backdrop for a number of the world’s major automakers to introduce all-new vehicles and more importantly, vehicle technology that is coming soon to a new vehicle showroom near you. Here are the highlights by automaker:
Chevrolet – The folks at Chevrolet chose the CES to introduce its latest electric vehicle – the Chevrolet Bolt. Boasting a range of 200 miles, the Bolt is aimed in part at making inroads with the brand in California and urban areas. The Bolt also fits into GM’s larger strategy to embrace new transportation technologies like ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles and includes features like one-pedal driving mode and saved settings for multiple drivers controlled through their smartphones. Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show, GM CEO Mary Barra said the Bolt’s combination of technology and affordability would help push electric vehicles into the mainstream.
Ford – Did you know that there are over 150 million lines of computer code in a Ford F-150 pickup truck? Ford was also at CES, talking more about apps, drones and autonomous vehicles. Pushing to be much more than just an auto company, Ford CEO Mark Fields talks of making a transition to being an auto AND mobility company. “Mobility” is the auto industry’s new favorite buzzword – a tacit acknowledgement that its traditional business model is unsustainable in this brave new world. While many definitions abound, Ford defines mobility as moving people safely, efficiently and affordably, whether its in cars they own, cars they drive or something else altogether. Ford is also expanding its autonomous driving program – adding 20 self-driving cars to its current fleet of 10. The Dearborn automaker plans to test the cars this year in Michigan, Arizona and on public roads in California.
Toyota – The Japanese automaker used the CES to announce its next-generation connected vehicle framework. Starting with its 2017 models, its connected vehicle framework will be anchored by the installation of a Data Communications Module that will allow Toyota vehicles to be connected to cellular telecommunications networks – expanding the ability to transmit data for products and services. Toyota is also teaming up with the Ford Motor Company to establish an industry development and operations framework to deploy SmartDeviceLink (SDL). SDL is an open source platform for smartphone apps and car connectivity where customers can use apps in their vehicle through voice recognition function and operation panel. With SDL, automakers can offer smartphone apps which match each company’s in-car system characteristics and interface. If more automakers apply SDL, app developers can develop apps that are compatible with multiple automakers – meaning more apps available in less time.
Audi – Piloted, electrified and fully connected driving. Audi is making these three future trends of the automotive industry the focus of its appearance at CES this year. The automaker introduced its Audi virtual cockpit into the Audi virtual dashboard, creating an entirely new world of experience for their customers. Also introduced was the Audi e-tron quattro concept study – which is a fully electric SUV which illustrates Audi’s electrification strategy. The vehicle is powered by 3 electric motors and the batteries allow for a range of over 300 miles. The Audi e-tron quattro concept includes all piloted driving functions, included piloted driving in traffic jams and parking. These services represent safety, time-savings, efficiency and convenience, particularly in situations in which the driver is either overwhelmed or under-challenged.
Mercedes-Benz – The German automaker is introducing the American motorist to its “It’s all about me” Next Level User Experience. An example is the sneak preview of the new E-Class, the automaker’s intelligent business sedan. The E-class features a touch control on a multifunction steering wheel. The two panels are touch sensitive like the surface of a smartphone and by using horizontal and vertical swiping movements, it is possible to scroll through the menus of the instrument cluster and the central display,. The selected function is activated by pressing down. In this way the entire infotainment system can be controlled in a logical, intuitive and ergonomically ideal way within the smallest amount of space – without the driver taking their hands off the steering wheel.