A global pandemic wasn't able to stop the world's largest consumer electronics showcase from happening, although this year marked a noticeably quieter event than most. That wasn't only because the event was virtual but also because there were fewer announcements and companies at the event than in previous years. While the show has become a critical venue for automakers to highlight autonomous and electric vehicle technologies, major brands like Toyota and Ford skipped the show after previously having a large presence, and there were significantly fewer startups than in previous years. However, a small CES is still a major event, and several major themes emerged from our analysis of the show's mobility innovations.
GM makes the biggest headlines:
General Motors' peers may have skipped the show, but GM doubled down and used the event as a venue for several major announcements. Most notably, the company is finally deploying its BEV3 platform as a logistics vehicle, as it announced the launch of the BrightDrop brand. While we've seen quite a bit of startup activity in the medium- and heavy-duty space, the quick entrance of incumbent automakers with dedicated BEV platforms means the window is closing fast for most. Additionally, and arguably most importantly, the announcement with the largest impact on BEV adoption was actually not tech-related at all. GM launched Ultifi, a consumer-facing app, which not only supports vehicle owners with access to charging stations and other services (which most automakers offer) but also engages with the customer during the sales process. Like Tesla, GM will be offering a no-haggle price for the Hummer, which can be purchased through the app – mirroring Tesla's sales process. Lastly, GM did bring the requisite eVTOL and autonomous shuttle pod, but neither was differentiated from previous announcements from others in the space, and the two concepts remain more design studies than serious plays in either space.
The tech-filled cockpit of the future:
CES has never had a shortage of gadgets or concepts focused on the future of the automotive interior. While many automakers have used the show to present highly futuristic visions of how tomorrow's car may integrate the innovations of today, both BMW and Mercedes showcased near-production-ready interiors for future vehicles. Mercedes' interior drew attention for its massive door-to-door display, similar to the one used by Byton that debuted at the same show in 2018, while BMW provided a preview of a major update to BMW iDrive, which introduces a slew of digital technologies, including gesture, voice, and view control; predictions of parking availability at destinations; and leveraging V2X communication to provide messages from nearby vehicles. Notably, both manufacturers are launching these features in electric vehicles, similar to the strategy of many automakers of more widely rolling out autonomous driving features in electric vehicles. It wasn't just about screens, as advancements in head-up displays (HUD) were prominent. Although we didn't find any breakthrough HUD technology, system demonstration videos highlighted both improved performance and new safety-focused features, such as pedestrian detection and displaying V2X messages. Most notably, Panasonic teamed up with Envisics and Phiar to showcase a solution it hopes will be in vehicles by 2024.
A down year for electrification and autonomy:
In previous years, covering the autonomous and electric vehicle announcements in one insight was nearly impossible, as the volume of announcements was so large. At this year's show there was simply less. Aside from GM's announcements, there were no other major announcements related to electrification. Sono Motors debuted its latest solar car prototype, but more importantly, it noted that it would begin licensing its solar technology to other vehicle manufacturers and coach builders, with EasyMile being its first licensee. Mobileye's presentation included some valuable data points and interesting announcements related to autonomous vehicles, such as a focus on improved radar to reduce the number of lidars required, which we covered in greater detail in this insight, but outside large equipment manufacturers like Caterpillar, there were no headline-worthy autonomous vehicle developments at the show.
Despite a smaller and less impactful event than in previous years, clients should expect CES to remain a valuable event for the latest autonomous, electric, and connected vehicle innovations. The event has for years found an audience more interested in these cutting-edge technologies. Today, automakers funnel billions of dollars in R&D budgets each year to these technologies, and with automaker stock prices tied to the public's perception of their relative strength in these areas, we expect more automakers to focus on using the event as a technology showcase.