Tech show to feature driverless concepts, electric cars

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

CES 2016, the technology trade show that kicks off next week in Las Vegas, is becoming just as vital to carmakers and suppliers for showcasing new products as any auto show.

Formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, the event will feature both production-ready electric cars and autonomous concept cars from major automakers like General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG. Top executives like GM CEO Mary Barra and Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Mark Fields will be on hand to make news. And auto suppliers like Delphi and Continental will show off their latest driverless car technology and in-vehicle infotainment.

“CES is just becoming bigger and bigger,” said Akshay Anand, analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “For the past three to five years, all the keynotes have been automotive CEOs and all the big reveals have been automotive.”

This show will feature 115 automotive technology companies, including nine automakers who will take up 200,000 square feet of floor space. The show will feature 3,600 companies and is expected to draw more than 150,000 attendees.

Ford will kick off the press days on Tuesday with a news conference at the show’s Mandalay Bay event space. Yahoo Autos reported in December that Ford would announce a partnership with Google Inc. to build driverless cars.

“The partnership makes sense,” Anand said. “There’s no company that knows technology better than Google.”

The tie-up would allow Ford to save time and money on autonomous technology development, and allow Google to save time and money on building vehicles. Anand said it would put the Dearborn automaker “among the leaders” in the race to develop driverless cars.

GM on Wednesday will unveil a production version of its all-electric Bolt that will have a range of about 200 miles on a single charge. Barra, on Twitter, said her keynote will also touch on how GM is “redefining personal mobility.”

The automaker revealed the Bolt concept, a hatchback with seating for five, last January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. With a starting price expected in the $30,000 range, the Bolt will be a direct competitor to the upcoming Tesla Model 3 as the auto companies compete to make an affordable electric car.

“A lot of EVs are in the 80- to 100-mile range, and that’s not enough for people,” Anand said. “I think 200 miles gives people a lot more peace of mind, and that range will unlock a lot of potential customers.”

Volkswagen AG, mired in an emissions scandal, will show an all-electric concept car that many publications are speculating will be a new Microbus. VW, in a press release teasing the new car, said it would illustrate the “major changes that the car is set to go through in the next few years” and that it “marks the beginning of a new era of affordable long-distance electromobility.”

VW’s Herbert Diess, chairman of the board of management for passenger cars, will deliver a keynote in which he will focus on “a new era of electric mobility.”

“Is this finally going to be something big enough to make the diesel sage lose some steam?” Anand said. “VW has been trying to electrify a lot of their lineup, and this is an initiative that’s been important long before the diesel scandal broke.”

The BMW Group will also show off a concept car that will feature hand gesture recognition technology, which first appeared on the BMW 7 series.

Toyota Motor Co. won’t show a concept car, but will display new map technology as well as news on its artificial intelligence program. Kia, Hyundai, Mercedes and Audi will also show off new technologies.

Suppliers also will play a major role at the show.

Delphi Automotive will drive a fully autonomous Audi SQ5 down the streets of Las Vegas that can interact with other cars, buildings, traffic lights and pedestrians. It will also showcase features like cockpit temperatures and radio stations that can be changed with eye movements and hand gestures; a three-dimensional digital instrument cluster that can be customized to look like new or classic cars; and cup holders or other storage areas that can be used to wirelessly charge smartphones.

Continental will demonstrate a number of its newest features, including blind-curve warnings about what might be around the bend.

“A lot of it is technological displays,” Anand said. “But a lot of these technologies have the potential to reach cars, whether it’s one year from now or five years from now.”

Beyond automotive, the show is expected to include advances in areas ranging from the practical to the obscure: from drones and wearables, to virtual reality headsets for adult entertainment and an online medical marijuana delivery platform.

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