13 Jan 2023
By PETER BARNWELL
A REALISATION that truly autonomous vehicles are still, at best, years off has seen car-makers diverting billions into EV development chasing Tesla while simultaneously pursuing a return on investment, something reflected in the tone of the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas earlier this month. 
 
It bucks the recent trend of the CES as a showcase for ‘free range’ autonomous driving technology that is viewed in some quarters as a flight of fancy.
 
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) were not ‘off the agenda’ by any stretch but the CES this year was emphatically on practicalities and ROI.
 
To that end, the likes of viable autonomous crop harvesting systems from tractor-maker John Deere and other similar displays commanded more attention and more exhibitors than general autonomous driving.
 
The word from the forecourt was that many previous exhibitors were put off by the collapse of Argo AI, the erstwhile self-driving unit of Ford and Volkswagen and other shaky autonomous drive programs.
 
Publication Bloomberg Hyperdrive reported that, “car companies and start-ups alike featured technologies they expect to provide a return on investment in the near-term, not in some hazy tomorrow that may never come”.
 
CES this year attracted 274 automotive/mobility exhibitors to the swanky Las Vegas venue in a show that was much bigger than last year’s pandemic-affected event.
 
Bloomberg Hypedrive quoted show promoter, the Consumer Technology Association’s president, Gary Shapiro as saying, “there’s no question that there’s been a shift”.
 
“The Biden administration has focused more on electric vehicles than they have on autonomous.”
 
Adding veracity to the statement were related transportation exhibitors who concentrated on EVs, commercials in particular, with plenty of attention on an electric Ram pick-up concept, Tesla’s forthcoming Cybertruck and even Rivian’s R1T.
 
Bloomberg Hyperdrive’s report says Foxconn-backed Lordstown Motors showed its Endurance plug-in pick up while General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo also touted new EVs.
 
Another salient point coming from the CES, according to Bloomberg Hyperdrive, is that, “some automotive executives are rationalising expectations on electric vehicles after confronting the reality of battery shortages and soaring raw material costs. Further, they are diverting AV funds into EV development in particular battery technology”.
 
Subscription driver assistance features such as Ford’s Blue Cruise and dial up ‘horsepower’ through so-called ‘connected cars’ was front and centre at the CES.
 
Plenty of high profile companies from the automotive space take the opportunity of the show to debut new products and technologies as well as to research their potential.
 
Among them was Qualcomm Technologies who displayed their innovative Snapdragon Digital Chassis which is a set of cloud-connected platforms for telematics and connectivity, the digital cockpit, and driver assistance and autonomy.
 
QT says the platforms deliver what automakers and automotive software developers need to create the vehicles of the future.
 
The platform is broken down into categories including:
 
Snapdragon Auto Connectivity providing solutions for ubiquitous connectivity (5G, C-V2X, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, MF-GNSS, DSDA) in and around the vehicle to support enhanced safety and infotainment.
 
Snapdragon Cockpit Platform for rich driving experiences including configurable 3D digital cluster, E-mirrors, 3D navigation, natural language processing, streaming multimedia, premium audio and intelligent UI.
 
Snapdragon Car-to-Cloud which provides device management with over-the-air (OTA) feature upgrades, global connectivity and integrated analytics to personalise the user experience and encourage drivers to adopt new features and services’
 
Snapdragon Ride Platform an advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) and automated driving (AD) platforms built around low-power, high-performance SoC platforms, flexible vision solutions and an SDK for simulation and continuous learning.
 
In response to adverse legal findings in the US related to diesel ‘cheat’ devices coupled with the runaway success of Ford’s Lightning F150 EV pick-up, Stellantis brand Ram descended on the CES with a new electric model called the Ram 1500 Revolution Battery-electric Vehicle (BEV) Concept.
 
Billed as a “visionary road map showing how the industry’s leading truck brand will redefine the pickup segment once again”, the new BEV ute shows where the company is heading in the near future and that is unequivocally towards electric vehicles.
 
The truck is loaded with advanced technology and Ram says it “reinvents the customer experience” by integrating leading-edge technology, a fully connected customer experience and advanced mobility features.
 
It provides a heads up on future Ram styling and that includes a new face, modernised R-A-M badging and animated full LED ‘tuning fork’ headlights.
 
The doors have been reimagined in a grand saloon style opening that showcases a cavernous occupant space without a B-pillar.
 
A new interior layout offers flexibility with room to configure workspace with a removable centre console and fold-flat surface.
 
Perhaps the most notable development is a third row of seats counting the rear jump seats. Other manufacturers have something similar under development.
 
A pass-through (and into the frunk) can fit objects up to 5.5 metres long.
 
The Ram EV is built on a new STLA body-on-frame architecture designed specifically for full-size electric vehicles and efficiently incorporates the battery pack with full underbody aero panels and active diffuser.
 
Power comes from two electric drive module (EDMs) with all-wheel-drive and four wheel steering  capability.
 
Providing sonorous tones was the collaborative Sony/Honda Afeela EV that uses Qualcomm tech.
 
Sony unveiled a prototype of the new model BEV saying, they would harness their “vast entertainment content” as it looks to become a player in next-generation cars.
 
Afeela features rounded corners and a sleek black roof along with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon digital chassis.
 
It puts a focus on the cockpit experience and offers the potential for Honda/Sony to sell content via subscription services.
 
“In order to realise intelligent mobility, continuous software updates and high-performance computing are required,” said Sony Honda Mobility Chief Executive, Yasuhide Mizuno.
 
“Afeela will be equipped with more than 40 sensors and the car will use the Unreal Engine 3D creation tool from Epic Games, the maker of the Fortnite series of games.”
 
For Honda, the JV might help them catch up a shift to electric power though the Afeela due in early 2026 will be priced at a premium.
 
On the whacky side of things was the Meyers Manx 2.0 ‘buggy’, the first totally new vehicle from Meyers Manx in over fifty years.
 
It’s a buggy with a difference thanks to a fully electric powertrain that Meyers Manx (MM) say represents, “the past brought forward”.
 
MM will distribute its first 50 Manx pre-production buggies to a select clientele for validation before going into final production, an unprecedented move in the automotive space.
 
The clientele includes multiple race team owners, professional drivers and individuals who will use their Manx’s on overland adventures and normal commutes. The process mirrors the original development of the Meyers Manx, with Bruce Meyers himself at the helm.
 
The open cockpit vehicle and silent electric powertrain means there’s little to interrupt an owner’s appreciation of a ‘natural’ environment.
 
It has a claimed range of up to 480km and comes with a fast charge facility. The electric drivetrain is sealed for off road security.
 
The BMW Group took advantage of the CES to share its vision of the future digital experience, both inside and outside the vehicle in the form of the BMW i Vision Dee, a futuristic mid-size sedan with a new and pared-down design language.
 
The name Dee stands for Digital Emotional Experience, and that is precisely its aim: to create an even stronger bond between people and their cars.
 
BMW says future digital functions will go far beyond the level of voice control and driver assistance systems we are familiar with today.
 
The i Vision Dee’s head-up-display extends across the full width of the windscreen, providing a glimpse of the next vehicle generation. From 2025 onwards, this innovation will become available in other new model BMWs.
 
“With the BMW i Vision Dee, we are showcasing what is possible when hardware and software merge,” said BMW AG chairman Oliver Zipse.
 
“In this way, we are able to exploit the full potential of digitalisation to transform the car into an intelligent companion. That is the future for automotive manufacturers, and also for BMW, the fusion of the virtual experience with genuine driving pleasure.”
Research General News
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