The automotive industry made very little noise during the 2018 edition of the Consumer Electronics Show. It was much louder at CES 2019. Important car-related announcements were made by century-old automakers, tech giants, and game-changing startups no one has heard of before. Connectivity, autonomy, and electrification reigned supreme once again, with varying degrees of realism and feasibility. While full driving autonomy remains years away, CES confirmed 2019 will be the year of in-car connectivity.
We visited every nook and cranny in the Las Vegas Convention Center to check out the transportation-related technology on display. From electric hatchbacks going on sale in 2019 to a 22nd-century-esque walking car, here are the new cars, tech features, and trends we saw during CES 2019.
Audi harnessed the power of virtual reality (VR) to make a significant breakthrough in terms of in-car entertainment. Working jointly with Disney, it synced the forward, backward, and lateral movements of a car with a VR-based video game to turn a run-of-the-mill ride to the grocery store into an immersive experience for the rear passengers. Digital Trends participated in a demo of Audi Experience Drive at the Speed Vegas racetrack south of Las Vegas.
When our driver received the green light, the E-Tron took off with the silence and smoothness you expect from an electric car. He accelerated, braked, negotiated tight and wide turns, and hit speeds of up to 90 mph on the straight part of the track. We may as well have been on a different planet. We were immersed in outer space, where we helped Rocket Racoon and Iron Man blast asteroids into pieces while shooting lasers at attacking alien enemies.
Though Audi is playing a sizable role in bringing this technology to the market, it will be available to all carmakers and content developers. The technology is tentatively scheduled to hit the market in late 2020 or early 2021. Pricing information hasn’t been announced yet.
Bell flying taxi
Don’t dismiss the flying taxi as a pie-in-the-sky concept best suited to science fiction films. Many of the aviation industry’s brightest minds — and some of the world’s wealthiest governments — are working on making them a reality in the not-too-distant future. Bell unveiled a full-scale prototype of a vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) air taxi at CES. Called Bell Nexus, it’s powered by a hybrid-electric propulsion system that zaps six ducted, tilting fans into motion. Inside, a trio of screens provide key information about the flight and the drivetrain.
Bell didn’t provide a time frame for the Nexus’ release, but a company spokesman told us it sees the taxi soaring by the mid-2020s.
German components manufacturer Bosch had a big presence at CES 2019. It predicts that driverless electric shuttles will become a common sight in major cities all around the world, and its CES booth showcased how it plans to be a part of this nascent segment. Bosch has packed an array of innovations like shuttle-specific infotainment technology, electric motors, and a software platform that helps users find a ride into a shared, fully connected design study (shown above) that made its global debut at CES. There is even software so advanced it can identify a piece of gum on a seat or a spilled cup of coffee.
Bosch displayed other innovations at CES, including a technology called Perfectly Keyless that it promises will revolutionize keyless-entry systems while making them much more complicated to hack, and a way to bring radar-based electronic driving aids common in new cars to the world of motorcycles. Digital Trends talked to Kay Stepper, one of the company’s automated driving experts, and with Bernd Heinrichs, the head of its smart mobility division, to gain valuable insight into where the mobility industry is going and how fast it will get there.
Byton, a little-known startup based in China, returned to CES in 2019 to show an updated version of the M-Byte concept with a production-ready interior. To us, it still looks like a concept. The production model will keep the design study’s curved, 48-inch screen, and it will ship with a smaller screen integrated into the steering wheel — seriously. It looks distracting at first glance, though we’ll reserve our final judgment until we try it. Byton plans to introduce the M-Byte before the end of 2019. Sales will begin in China, but the model will be available in the United States sooner or later. Expect pricing to start in the vicinity of $45,000.
Harley-Davidson announced ambitious plans to go electric in 2018, and it fully revealed its first electric motor at CES 2019. The LiveWire is a sexy, futuristic two-wheeler that whirs from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds before hitting a top speed of 110 mph. Its lithium-ion battery pack holds enough electricity for 110 miles of range. It’s not just electric, though; it’s also fully connected. Harley replaced the analog instrument cluster with a digital unit, and it created an app that lets users remotely monitor the charging process.
We were so impressed with the LiveWire that we named it the best transportation-related product of CES 2019. Yes, Harley-Davidson won an award at the world’s largest tech show; let that sink in.
Hyundai unveiled an unstoppable, science fiction-esque design study at CES 2019 that’s part car, part robot. Called Elevate, it’s a walking, van-like vehicle developed to help first responders travel over rough terrain that would stop even the most rugged SUV dead in its tracks. The legs are powered by in-wheel electric motors, and autonomous technology allows the Elevate to navigate in a wide array of conditions. It can climb a 5-foot vertical wall, step over a 5-foot gap, walk like a reptile or like a mammal, and lower itself to drive at 75 mph on the freeway like a normal car. Hyundai told Digital Trends the Elevate is just a research project at this time.
Kia wants to equip its self-driving cars with artificial intelligence-powered technology that recognizes human emotions. The concept it displayed at CES gave showgoers a preview of how the feature works. Designed with input from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it relies on A.I. and what’s called biosignal recognition to tell whether you’re happy, sad, or tired. The system then adjusts some of the car’s systems — like the ambient lighting, the temperature, and the music playing — to suit your mood.
Stepping out of the traditional auto show circuit, Mercedes-Benz introduced the second-generation CLA during CES 2019. The CLA remains the design-led member of Mercedes’ growing family of compact cars. Stylists took its front end in a more aggressive direction, and the sedan received a fastback-like roof line reminiscent of the third-generation CLS, as well as frameless doors. Upmarket variants of the CLA benefit from the brand-new Mercedes-Benz User experience (MBUX) infotainment system displayed on a gorgeous, high-resolution 10-inch touchscreen.
At launch, the lineup will include a single model named CLA 250. Power comes from a brand-new, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine turbocharged to deliver 221 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque from 1,800 to 4,000 rpm. Front-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic transmission will come standard, and Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive system will be offered at an extra cost. Performance specifications and fuel economy data aren’t available yet.
As we predicted, Nissan unveiled a second version of the electric Leaf with more driving range. Called Leaf e+, it boasts a 62-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that boosts driving range to 226 miles while giving horsepower and torque generous increases. It’s a big improvement over the standard Leaf, which drives for up to 150 miles on a single charge, and it’s about time Nissan made these improvements to its electric hatchback. No pricing information was announced during the car’s unveiling.
CES visitors also got the opportunity to check out the 332-horsepower Leaf Nismo RC in person for the first time on American soil.
Qualcomm wants to finally make vehicle-to-everything communication a reality. Its 9150 chipset gives automakers the power to add C-V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything communication) to their cars. The format is 5G-ready, and it will offer backward compatibility so it will keep up with current trends by the time it hits the market. Ford, Audi, and Ducati teamed up to demonstrate what C-V2X technology can do at CES 2019. All three plan on adding the feature to their vehicles in the not-too-distant future; Ford pledged to offer it on every new car and truck it sells in the United States by 2022.
Most of the CES exhibitors who dabble in transportation want to completely transform the way you move.
Electrification, autonomy, and connectivity again trended at CES 2019, and we’ve lost track of the number of companies surfing that wave. Companies flooded the show floor with box-like living rooms on wheels powered by autonomous driving technology. These design studies are far from production, but companies like Bosch predict the driverless shuttle will spawn its own market segment before the end of the next decade. Autonomy also opens the door to types of connectivity and entertainment that are impossible to implement today.
Humans will continue to drive for decades, if not more, and Qualcomm and Harman were among the companies displaying what the cockpit of the near future could look like — if car companies adopt these solutions. Toyota believes some motorists will want assistance, not fully autonomy, so it’s steering its research and development department in that direction. Nissan blurred the boundary between reality and the virtual with invisible-to-visible tech.
Techniplas showed a Mini Countryman decked out with 3D-printed accessories, including its steering wheel and its wheels, and we got a first-hand demo of what Valeo calls “a personalized comfort cocoon that adapts to meet the needs of each passenger according to his or her physiological characteristics.” Honda took a step toward putting a supermarket in your car’s dashboard,
Amazon invited itself to the automotive sector with Alexa. Ned Curic, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa Auto, told Digital Trends the list of companies interested in adding Alexa integration into their vehicles is considerably bigger than his team anticipated. The retail giant-turned-tech giant notably announced a significant partnership with HERE navigation. We expect to hear many similar partnerships in the coming months as demand for in-car Alexa spikes.
Some motorists still prefer using a standalone GPS system. Garmin had them covered at CES 2019 with a lineup of updated Drive navigators decked out with road trip-friendly features like information about national parks and notable landmarks on a given route. PureGear added 4G connectivity to its dash cam. And, for those driving a car made in the 20th century, Anker announced a smart car charger that adds features like voice command compatibility and hands-free navigation.