With an average number of 315 weddings per day, Las Vegas definitely takes a top spot on the list of locations for forging bonds. Ever since Ford CEO Alan Mulally's keynote at CES 2010 the automotive industry has come back to Sin City in early January for dates with consumer technologies. CES 2014 was no different except maybe that this time cars have taken center stage at the annual event. One could claim that the two industries have finally exchanged rings.
Audi's opening keynote on Monday evening delivered by Chairman Rupert Stadler had all the elements of a successful keynote of a tech titan: a celebrity with Big Bang Theory's Kunal Nayyar, a flashback into the company's remarkable history with a Horch 850, and exciting product revelations in the form of a concept car featuring laser-powered headlamps and an A7 that drove itself onto the stage. Anyone who ever doubted that the over 100-year-old industry, literally the granny from the industrial revolution, would be capable of stealing the show from the youngsters of the information age learned their lesson that evening.
Remember the days when just automotive aftermarket exhibitors sparsely populated the floors of CES? Tucked away in a portion of the North Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center – next to an adult entertainment convention taking place at the same time -- the makers of vehicle alarms, high-powered car audio systems, DIY Bluetooth mobile phone integration solutions and others showcased their products. Long gone are those days.
This year's CES featured over 125 automotive companies the who-is-who of the industry on over 140,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 25 percent increase from the prior year. Among the OEMs, Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes and Toyota put their latest technologies on display. However, not just the car makers but also the suppliers to the industry such as Bosch, Continental, Delphi, Denso, Visteon and others stepped out from behind their OEM customers into the limelight of the show.
So what were the automotive tech trends shown at CES 2014? As one would expect, electric vehicles, autonomous driving and the connected car were omnipresent. While Tesla Motors, the pioneer of mainstream electric cars, did not have an exhibit at CES their Model S was featured at the GoElectricDrive TechZone sponsored by the Electric Drive Transportation Association.
Ever wished you could communicate with your car via a wristwatch like David Hasselhoff in the cult show Knight Rider? Your wish is granted with the new BMW i3 in combination with the Samsung Galaxy Gear. Check your ride's charging level, unlock its doors, send destination addresses to its navigation system using Samsung's S Voice Command, remotely activate heating or cooling, and more. While the car has a self-parking feature I will unfortunately still have to wait for the built-in valet feature: “BMW find a parking spot” and “BMW pick us up” after a candle-light dinner with my wife.
Electric car innovation is also driving many supporting technologies such as photo-voltaic and batteries for generation and storage of electric energy. Ford showed their solar-powered concept car, the C-MAX Solar Energi, a variant of the C-MAX Energi hybrid that you can already purchase at Ford dealerships. C-MAX Solar Energi features about 15 square feet solar panels on its roof that charge the car's batteries. By itself the solar panels only generate about 300 Watts of power which is hardly enough to charge the batteries in a day. However, Ford also has developed a concept for carport that uses lenses as a roof to concentrate the solar energy on the panels on the car. In addition, the car can autonomously adjust its position underneath the carport to align itself with the position of the sun.
Car interiors are going all digital. The days of instrument clusters with analog gauges are over. Virtually all car makers either have already released or are working on new models with instrument clusters featuring displays rather than electro-mechanical instruments. The new Mercedes Benz S Class integrates two large screens into the dash: one for the instrument cluster and one for the infotainment. At CES Audio revealed its vision of a digital interior with the 2015 TT. Jaguar Land Rover's C-X17 concept among other screens in the dash integrates a touch screen in the rear center console.
The automotive industry is once again re-inventing itself. The cars of tomorrow will be much more than smartphones or computers on wheels as many predict. The will be play a major part in our connected lifestyles, seamlessly integrating physical mobility with cyber mobility.