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CES 2021 and cars: What we expect in autonomous cars, EVs, and more

The automotive world has been turned on its ear in recent years, as the greatest car shows of the world dimmed beside and ultimately vanished into the penumbra of CES. CES has truly taken over the world of transportation: The world’s greatest gadget show has become one of the world’s biggest car shows, where dozens of car builders and accessory makers come to show off their latest wares.

In years past at CES, we’ve driven self-driving cars and tractors, been wowed by futuristic autonomous busses, and seen some of the biggest tech companies dip a tentative toe into the automotive world – I’m looking at you, Sony. What should we expect from CES 2021? Here are a few educated guesses at what to watch out for.

Autonomous cars galore

In years past, we’ve tested autonomous car tech from any number of companies. Last year I cruised around Vegas in a custom Lincoln MKZ, powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Ride, a handful of chips and a software stack that can fit into a box no bigger than your backpack and can tie together the cameras, communication systems, and navigation needed for autonomy. In 2018 we rode in an Aptiv-powered Lyft, which we found the best kind of boring.

Qualcomm’s self-driving Lincoln MKZ Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

Honestly, there are more companies working on self-driving vehicles than there are acronyms available; I counted two dozen in 2018 before I gave up in despair, and there are likely more these days. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements from the big tech brands behind this tech, notably Nvidia and Qualcomm, as well as the carmakers themselves. We also expect additional info from the raft of electric vehicle startups that have launched (and sometimes collapsed) at CES. Watch for news from Faraday, Fisker, and other brands.

Mercedes is unveiling something it calls “hyperscreen,” a wrap-around digital display for your cockpit that the company says “is representative of the emotional intelligence of the entire vehicle and is highly capable of learning.” What that means is anyone’s guess. Components are indeed a big part of the show, however, notably lidar, the eyeballs of the self-driving car and one of the hottest areas of innovation in tech. Expect to hear from dozens of companies claiming to make the best, the smallest, and the cheapest such sensors. Look for actual deals with carmakers to see which will succeed and which will fail.

Electric vehicles

Last year I got behind the wheel of the Faraday Future FF91, an all-electric sports car with over a thousand horsepower, which can take you from a standstill to 60 mph in 2.3 seconds. Not gonna lie, it was pretty amazing. There’s a catalog of electric cars in the pipeline longer than any list Santa could craft — too many to walk through here, but a few stand out to us.

Last year’s biggest CES auto news was around Sony’s Vision-S, an electric concept car that served as both technology showpiece and little slice of magic. In August, it was revealed that Sony was actually road-testing the thing, meaning it clearly isn’t an abandoned project. Expect to hear more from the most unlikely car company at CES 2021.

Sony Vision-S Concept Car
Mario Tama/Getty Images

We wrote at the beginning of the month about the E-GMP platform from Hyundai, the basis for new vehicles that, unlike previous versions, will be designed from the ground up to be electric. Hyundai and Kia have hinted at E-GMP before but finally provided some concrete details ahead of the platform’s launch in 2021. In August, we learned about Hyundai’s plans for a new EV brand called Ioniq; it’s pure speculation, but it’s not too much of a leap to suppose Hyundai could unveil this at CES.

Meanwhile, GM’s Mary Barra is giving one of the keynotes at CES, and several reports indicate the company is going to showcase EV tech in trucks. Look to Detroit for new leadership on this front.

Wacky stuff

CES wouldn’t be CES without crazy transportation tech. Last year we cruised in Manta5, the unholy offspring of a boat, a plane, and an e-bike. This year we hear rumors that Honda’s been at work on a mind-reading bike, which would be a fine bit of kit to show off. What else will the show hold? Only time will tell. Stay tuned to Digital Trends for complete coverage of the landmark technology, gadget, and automotive show.

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Jeremy Kaplan
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