Visitors to the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas this month must have wondered whether the C stood for ‘car’ not ‘consumer’. The long running gadget fest – which has been used as a launch pad for the original video cassette player and the camcorder, to the Xbox – has been car-jacked by an automotive industry that is eager to paint itself in a high-tech light.
Around a quarter of all floor space at this year’s CES was car companies showing off new models, or technology companies, including chip and software makers, looking to cross over into vehicles. Even the connectivity guys were talking like mechanics; with Vinli, a Dallas company, hoping to turn Uber taxis into wi-fi hotspots with a plug-in device.
The automo-down of the tech conference is paying dividends. Ford must have rejoiced when a deal to provide dashboard software to Toyota was trumpeted in the mainstream press as a massive win over Apple.
Electric cars were always going to shine at CES in the dust of Tesla’s success in finding a niche between technology and motoring. Chevrolet unveiled its new Bolt electric car, at an accessible price for Americans and with a longer charging range of around 200 miles. Volkswagen teased its BUDD-e electric mini-van which, while provoking a sense of nostalgia for some, charges quickly and accelerates even faster making the concept car a potential contender in a crowded market place when it hits the showroom.
Chevrolet Bolt EV
Yet none of this is likely to get the average technology reporter’s pulse racing as they look for the next big thing - not the most practical. More eyes were drawn towards Faraday Future, a car company that at least sounds like it belongs at a high-tech conference, which unveiled a vehicle that looked a bit like the Batmobile. That’s how you turn heads.
Future Faraday FFZERO1 Concept
The US company, which is backed by Chinese money, believes that its high octane FF ideals will tackle Tesla head-on, and revealed that it intends to start building cars on the outskirts of Las Vegas with a view to hitting the road in 2017. Few believe the Batmobile will ever leave the garage, however, so FF remains something of an unknown quantity.
Perhaps the most striking concept car on show came from BMW, which revealed a sleek roller-skate-shaped vehicle under its i8 brand. This model didn’t even have doors or wing mirrors (something that will one day be replaced by cameras), but it did have a 21-inch control screen inside that is controlled by hand gestures. Waving when driving a car sounds dangerous but it’s not so far removed from the arm-flailing that goes on during most family holidays.
BMW i8 Concept
The BMW system is called AirTouch – reviving a corporate brand that only lives in the memories of telecoms reports, as it soon became Verizon Wireless – and is the closest thing yet to transforming a car into a giant touch screen.
It seems in the converging world of tech and cars, no-one wants to ride shotgun yet.
- Nic Fildes, Technology & Communications Editor at The Times.
(Image sources: Forbes, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, Faraday Future, BMW)