To see the latest in automotive and mobility tech, there’s only one place to be: the Consumer Electronics Show. Vision Mobility’s James Carter saw firsthand Canadian highlights like Project Arrow and how battery electric and autonomous technology dominated this year’s event
Every year I make the journey to Las Vegas to immerse myself in the annual Consumer Electronics Show.
Consumer electronics though, are only a small part of this massive display; this is a giant showcase of new technology, and automotive and mobility are greatly strengthening their presence.
This years’ experience was the first time in three years that I’ve attended, due to Covid. It was certainly great to be back, and without doubt there were some standout themes that pervaded the show.
So, here are the top five trends from CES 2023 and their implications for future mobility — plus a bonus highlight at the end.
1. Everything is electric
Walking around CES 2023 I was struck by how many zero-emission vehicles — especially EVs — were on display. Whether it was OEMs or suppliers, just a few ICE vehicles punctuated CES 2023 (perhaps one in five) and only one fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) — a short-range truck. Tier 1 and 2 parts suppliers heavily focused on EV componentry. And electric vehicle charger suppliers were out in force, with at least 10 companies with large displays.
There was an immediate understanding that electric vehicles are not just the future, they are here now and the ecosystem buildout is in full swing.
What’s more, electrification is cross-industry. Several displays featured electric yard equipment such as mowers, snow blowers and other machinery that once would have been gas-powered. It’s almost a given that there’s no place for internal combustion in any form anymore, or, at the very least, it’s not something that companies want to talk about.
2. Everything is battery
Batteries dominated automotive displays. Both OEMs and Tier 1s had large sections devoted to battery technology promoting cell chemistries (including solid state), pack designs and automotive electrical hardware.
However, the battery trend captured many other players as well. There a huge number of companies displaying EV chargers and there were also home battery packs, portable battery packs, micro-mobility battery solutions, solar microgrid networks and household off-grid solutions.
A few displays discussed hydrogen conceptually, but this was not a focus and, at best, felt niche.
3. Autonomous is very relevant
Despite the recent negativity we have seen around autonomous vehicles (AVs), the number of companies displaying components for AVs such as software, vision systems and lighting systems was astounding.
Why? Because all these autonomous vehicle technologies are inputs into improving vehicle safety for driver assist (ADAS) technologies. These technologies are the pathway through which fully autonomous systems will develop.
Better computer vision allows for earlier problem spotting, more advanced lighting and sight technologies create more data for the algorithms to identify problems and embedded artificial intelligence allows software to self-monitor.
This is important as consumers are demanding a full suite of active safety systems when purchasing new vehicles. OEMs will need to prove their vehicles keep drivers safe and reduce accidents.
Not only that, but there is also a robust market for autonomous technologies for long-distance trucking and off-highway use, such as mining and agriculture — areas that do not have to deal with the complexities of city traffic.
4. People still love cars
In some circles today, it’s trendy to criticize the car. It’s obvious why: they take up a lot of room, create a lot of accidents and are a severe barrier towards the safety and successful rollout of cycling and other forms of micro-mobility.
However, without doubt, cars are still objects of consumer desire.
At CES 2023, people crowded around new zero-emission vehicles like the GMC Hummer, Sony Afeela, Lucid Air, Lightyear 0, Peugeot concept and Mercedes-Benz EQXX. Cars are still set up as eye candy for booths that only have a passing relevance to the auto world. (Let’s face it, most of us are much more attracted to a beautiful sports car than an autonomous shuttle.)
Moreover, many people still love to drive, and want a connection to their car. (I’m one of them.) They want an emotional bond and for the car to reflect what they are about. Call it self-centred or even social conditioning over decades, but this is a longstanding theme that will not go away quickly.
5. Software and connectivity are defining automotive
Weaving all the automotive sensor technology together is software. Nothing happens without it, and the concept of the software-driven vehicle is a ubiquitous trend.
Interestingly, Volkswagen’s software company CARIAD had its own display stand as prominent as the Volkswagen mothership, while Tier 1s, especially the huge assortment of semiconductor companies displaying their wares, made showcasing their own software a theme.
One of the great drivers of this is connectivity in over-the-air updates, as pioneered by Tesla. Constantly updateable connected vehicles allow for installation of new options by the customer, updating of autonomous driving systems and quick resolution of service and recall actions.
Furthermore, many companies are beginning to layer AI technology into software. This allows for rapid identification of code problems, as well as added security when over-the-air updates are launched.
Connectivity is clearly defining not only our cars, but many aspects of our lives. Everything can be remote, adjustable and updateable, straight from our cell phones.
The new automotive ecosystem?
Along with those trends, one further insight.
While most of the stands and booths showcased efforts that were quite siloed in their approach, there were two stand out examples where the product extended into a new ecosystem.
The first was Foxconn’s approach to vehicle manufacturing. By acting as a contract builder to smaller, newer OEMs such as Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Monarch Tractors (a recent autonomous agricultural vehicle start-up) and even Foxconn’s own vehicle brand Foxtron; and partnering on the supplier side with companies like NXP and Nvidia, they have created an all-in-one production solution that will significantly diversify automotive offerings.
The second was Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA) activities. With support from the federal and provincial governments, the APMA displayed their zero-emission Project Arrow show car at CES 2023 as a demonstration of what Canada’s end-to-end automotive capabilities are, especially for electric vehicles.
Canada has mineral resources for batteries, cutting-edge R&D battery research, growing battery cell and pack production, software development as well as a full suite of automotive Tier 1 and 2 suppliers and OEM production facilities. This zero-emission ecosystem on display was unique at CES 2023 and exciting to see presented to the world.
As a whole, it’s obvious that automotive and mobility are going through a once-in-a-century shift.
The focus is moving from hardware to software, from human drivers to autonomous, everything will be electric and the concept of an end-to-end automotive ecosystem is really starting to gain traction
The good news is that Canada is well placed to be at the forefront of the sector’s future.
James Carter is Principal Consultant of Vision Mobility, a Toronto-based consultancy that provides services to OEMs, Tier 1s, dealers, startups, industry organizations and companies on strategies to succeed in a New Mobility environment. Prior to that, James worked for Toyota for 19 years in Australia, Asia and North America.