2019 CES Highlights: News Made by Ford, Toyota, Audi, and Other Automakers
Ah, the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show. The show auto writers love to hate has undeniably become an "it" show that can't be missed, even if—like FCA—you have nothing particularly new or techy to unveil. Still, technology prevails, and again this year the central themes in the automotive halls centered broadly on topics including autonomy, connectivity, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, smart cities, and mobility for all. On display in what seems like millions of display booths spread across Las Vegas' many convention halls and temporary buildings erected in parking lots are promising puzzle pieces needed to complete the aforementioned big pictures. We embedded three of our troops to bring you the following highlights.
Lots of pundits blame CES for the "death" of Detroit's North American International Auto Show. There were indeed numerous car companies with booths or displays set up at CES, and a production car even made its global debut here (the second in history). Hyundai probably earned "Best Concept" honors in unveiling its crazy four-legged-and-wheeled Elevate concept covered under the Venture Capital segment below, but Audi, Byton, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota also made news and staged splashy press events at this year's event.
Audi proposed leveraging its vehicles' many onboard sensors to inform a reality game that translates the vehicle's various lateral and longitudinal accelerations into a roller-coaster ride as experienced through virtual reality goggles. We fear the coaster rides may be pretty dull when crossing the Great Plains, but through subsidiary Audi Electronics Venture GmbH, a start-up called Holoride GmbH has started to commercialize this "new form of entertainment" via an open development platform. Audi demoed the concept with Marvel's Avengers: Rocket's Rescue Run, which was developed in conjunction with Disney Games and Interactive Experiences. Audi plans to eventually make the technology available to other automakers and content developers.
And not to be outdone by Mercedes-Benz's bouncing GLE-Class crossover, Audi demonstrated the capabilities of its new A8 active suspension by using it to heighten the experience of watching one of those Marvel comic movie scenes where the supers destroy some hapless city's infrastructure, bouncing, pitching, and rolling along with the action—a potentially welcome diversion when stuck in a stationary car in traffic or while recharging. If you're wondering, the current A8's electrical architecture doesn't permit the suspension system to access an app like this would need, but a midcycle upgrade is expected in the 2021-22 time frame.
Byton showed the M-Byte at CES, but the electric SUV's sleek styling takes a back seat to the 48.0-inch curved display that dominates the dash, making Tesla and Volvo screens look puny by comparison. If the glow cast by that enormous screen doesn't give you enough info, the steering wheel itself has a 7.0-inch display, and an 8.0-inch touchpad screen sits between the two front seats.
Rear seats get entertainment screens, and the front seats can rotate inward up to 12 degrees to facilitate conversation when the car isn't moving. The luxurious Byton M-Byte looks promising, and the automaker has set a debut date of mid-2019, but considering how long it's taken other Tesla-challenging startups to actually produce cars for consumers to buy, we take that date with a grain of salt.
Ford announced its plans to roll out cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology for 2022. The system will be compatible with the coming 5G architecture but also works on existing 4G LTE and other cellular networks. Ford's architecture leverages Qualcomm communications technology, which allows connected devices to communicate directly with one another even when out of range of a cell tower. A major benefit of C-V2X over other communications protocols like direct short-range communications (DSRC) is that pedestrians, cyclists, and so forth are more likely to carry a cell phone than a DSRC-enabled communications device so they will be better protected.
Hyundai announced plans to introduce a dedicated, modular electric platform (called E-GMP) by 2020. The automaker showcased a Style Set Free vehicle personalization concept that looked for all the world like an Apple Store where owners of future autonomous Hyundais could order things such as an onboard rowing machine. And a mobility ecosystem concept was floated in which clients could purchase mobility by the mile, by the minute, or by the megawatt. Few details have been hammered out as yet on that last one. Hyundai's CRADLE (Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences) venture-capital subsidiary was founded in late 2017 and has already invested in 30 startups. But it was the team overseeing and coordinating with these companies that built and unveiled a crazy robotic walking car concept called Elevate, which we covered here.
Mercedes-Benz introduced its new CLA-Class and announced that its Freightliner Cascadia big-rig truck would be first to market offering SAE Level 2 partial autonomy. The CLA-Class joins its mechanical twin, the A-Class, in democratizing Benz's MBUX user interface to middle-class incomes, complete with gesture control and a digital assistant that responds to "Hey, Mercedes." The Freightliner, meanwhile, brings the kinds of advanced driver aids we're just beginning to take for granted—automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keeping, lane centering, adaptive cruise control, auto headlights and high-beams, auto wipers-to Class 8 trucks for the first time ever.
Toyota is collaborating with Kenworth to equip 10 new T680 big-rig tractors with fuel cell powertrains as part of a $41 million Zero and Near-Zero Emissions Freight Facilities (ZANZEFF) grant preliminarily awarded by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The grant aims to clean up the air around the Port of Los Angeles, but the trucks have a 300-mile range and will deliver freight throughout the L.A. basin. The Toyota Research Institute unveiled its P4 autonomous vehicle testing platform, based on a Lexus LS 500h, and Guardian, a Level 2 autonomy system that uses the sensing and computing power of a Level 4 or 5 system to better warn and assist drivers under dangerous or particularly demanding driving conditions. The Toyota Mobility Foundation unveiled concepts to aid in personal mobility that included Evowalk (a sleeve that stimulates leg muscles to aid in walking), Moby (a concept of shared devices that motorize manual wheelchairs), Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair (a largely carbon self-balancing chair that eliminates vibration), and Qolo and Quix (two wheeled exoskeleton concepts that allow paraplegics to move around standing up). And finally the company announced a partnership with Japanese cellular giant KDDI and U.S.-based AT&T to upgrade Toyota/Lexus connectivity with 4G LTE technology.
More from 2019 CES: