I’ve been heading to Las Vegas for CES every January since 1989. Back then car tech was all about in-dash CD players, amplifiers and subwoofers. Those things still laren’t hard to find—or hear—at CES, especially in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center (aka the Boom Room).
But aftermarket audio now plays second fiddle to car companies and their tech suppliers who have been descending on CES and dominating the automotive segment of the show for almost a decade. CES has become the biggest car tech show on earth, and carmakers use the occasion to debut new models and concept vehicles once reserved for auto shows in addition to the technology you’ll likely see in your dashboard down the road.
While most exhibitors keep their CES news under wraps until the show kicks off next week, a few have already tipped their hand, others have provided hints at what they may be revealing in Las Vegas, and rumors have surrounded some of the biggest anticipated announcements.
Last year, self-driving technology stole the show, and Mercedes-Benz was the highlight with its futuristic F 015 Luxury in Motion autonomous concept car that was unveiled at CES 2015. Autonomous driving will undoubtedly take center stage once again, but with new players and partners entering the game.
First and foremost, rumors have been swirling the past two weeks that Ford and Google will announce a partnership at CES. Ford has been tight-lipped about the news, and a Ford spokesperson I reached out to would only say that “We have been and will continue working with many companies and discussing a variety of subjects related to our Ford Smart Mobility plan. We keep these discussions private for obvious competitive reasons, and we do not comment on speculation.”
But we do know that Kia will jump into the self-driving car fray for the first time. The invite to its CES press conference stated that the Korean car company will feature “the global debut of its dedicated autonomous driving program.” According to documents filed with the Nevada DMV, Kia has filed permits to operate two autonomous Kia Soul EVs in the state, while Hyundai has applied for the same permit for a Santa Fe (although it won’t be appearing at CES since it alternates displaying at the show each year with sister car maker Kia).
Nevada DMV documents have also revealed that Mercedes-Benz is planning to showcase autonomous E-Class models that will reportedly launch in 2017. And a separate story has indicated that Audi is expected to unwrap production-ready self-driving technology on a next-generation A8 sedan.
One of the most anticipated CES 2016 debuts will be by a new car company known as Faraday Future, which at one point was thought to be a front for Apple’s automotive project. The secretive startup that’s backed by a Chinese billionaire will debut a concept on the eve of the show that it said will be an electric vehicle, but is widely believed will also feature autonomous capabilities.
After six months of bad press, Volkswagen is hoping to deflect attention away from the Dieselgate debacle when the head of VW passenger cars Herbert Diess supposedly introduces a new electric vehicle concept car during his CES keynote speech. This week VW released a 10-second teaser video that seems to show the concept as a new EV Microbus that is rumored to feature production-ready autonomous driving technology.
While self-driving will undoubtedly take center stage in Las Vegas, other technologies that we should see trending include gesture control and new infotainment interfaces. German automotive supplier Bosch has already announced that it will show a new haptic technology that allows a conventional touch-screen to emulate physical textures and buttons so drivers can operate it purely by touch without having to look at it.
As we reported earlier this week, BMW will show a new feature called AirTouch at CES. The German automakers said the technology “allows the display in a vehicle to be operated like a touch-screen without actually having to make contact with the surface.” Instead, it lets the driver access infotainment features via “simple hand gestures,” while “sensors record the hand movements in the area between the central console and the interior mirror.”
This is just a small taste of the car tech gluttony that will go down in Vegas next week. So stayed tuned since I’ll be canvassing CES along with other PCMag writers to bring you the full scoop on these stories and more.