By Marc Amblard, Founder & Managing Director, Orsay Consulting
CES 2020 hosted 170,000 attendees who came to visit 4,000 exhibits, 1200 of which were presented by startups. This article highlights the key trends and messages on mobility and related technologies I observed during 3 days on site — here you can find my analyses on the previous three CES. Whereas autonomous driving (specifically Level 4) took a back seat this year, in-cabin experience along with digital cockpits were at the core of many corporate booths. Professional applications of drones as well as AR/VR, and to a lesser extent 5G were also very visible. A handful of OEMs presented new vehicles — or often production versions of vehicles already introduced.
This edition of the event positioned mobility at large, and more specifically automotive, even more at its core than in previous years. By contrast, OEMs around the world are increasingly absent from “traditional” auto shows. Their most dire challenge is indeed about transforming themselves with new technologies and business models. As a result, they need to appeal to the tech people who attend or present at CES.
By signing up to the Autonomy newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from us that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.
My French readers may be interested in noting that French Tech reduced its participation from about 450 last year — a peak after years of growth — to about 300, placing the country in 4th position among startup nations present at CES. China and Korea both moved ahead of France. This increased selectivity was for the better.
Digital cockpits and in-cabin experience
Back at CES 2018, Daimler introduced its new MB User Experience (MBUX) platform. This year, a number of suppliers including Faurecia, Samsung, Qualcomm or Panasonic presented their integrated solutions for complete on-board experiences. Features encompass the porting of one’s digital profile to provide a seamless experience, immersive sound, digital assistants, gaming with cloud streaming, keeping the driver alert, or ensuring no children are left on the back seat — the latter two will soon be required by law.
These features leverage the new, extensive understanding of passengers and of the cabin as a whole: age, position, biometrics, activities such as drinking, texting or sleeping, or cabin surfaces. This understanding is made possible by new cockpit domain controllers fed by a broad suite of sensors and controlled through an increasing number of interactive displays.
5G, AR/VR, Drones
5G benefits from significant promotion by telcos, but there was little evidence of real business cases to justify the very significant investment in infrastructure that will be necessary. In the US, 25 cities so far have reportedly benefited from some sort of deployment. Yet, I only saw a few corporate players presenting use cases which leverage 5G in the short term. Automotive V2X’s future remains uncertain, with debates in both the USA and Europe as to whether cellular or wifi will be the technology of choice for wide deployment.
Though their impact on mobility is indirect, AR/VR and drone technologies remained present at many booths with all sorts of applications. However, the focus for both seem to have shifted towards business applications.
Selected Highlights from the OEMs
The 4-ring OEM presented Q4 eTron, a battery electric SUV that will compete head-to-head with Tesla Model Y, Mercedes EQC and more when it launches in 2021. Built on VW Group’s MEB platform, Q4 Tron will be fitted with twin motors (150 + 75 kW) and 82 kWh of battery capacity. Audi also presented AI:ME “mobility for mega cities,” a concept car (picture below) with a retractable steering wheel aiming at shedding light on what a Level 4 vehicle could look like. It should be noted that several similar concepts have been shown in the past. Otherwise, Audi’s exhibit showcased interesting innovative lighting solutions.
The Silicon Valley- and China-based, Chinese-funded emerging OEM presented a production ready version of M-Byte, its mid-size SUV with single (200 kW) or twin motors (300 kW); and 80 or 105 kW battery. The vehicle is unique for its pillar-to-pillar display as part of a complete interior sourced from Tier 1 supplier Faurecia. Produced in China, M-Byte will launch there in late 2020, then in the US.
Eponymous of its Danish founder, Fisker presented Ocean, an electric SUV with 80 kWh battery capacity. Introduced here for the first time, the vehicle was a concept vehicle built by Pininfarina. It will reportedly launch in Europe in 2022, then in the USA at $37,500. The company started taking $250 deposits last November. Given Fisker’s track record of overpromising and underdelivering at Karma, its previous venture, I would not bet on the announced timing, though I wish them success.
Center stage — and clearly a crowd magnet — was an eVTOL (Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft. Capable of carrying 4 people (incl. pilot), the vehicle targets city trips of up to 100 km at cruising speed and altitude of 300 km/hr and 300 to 600 m. Hyundai is expected to be the first Uber Elevate partner with manufacturing capabilities to mass produce air taxis. Hyundai intends to deploy the aircraft as a ride sharing service on Uber’s platform, targeting 2023. More on Hyundai press release. Surprisingly, there was nothing on fuel cells, though the Korean OEM has been a pioneer in the field. The recently announced $25B investment in the electrification of their product line may be another sign of a partial shift away from fuel cells.
The pièce de résistance here was AVTR, a concept vehicle built around the theme of the movie Avatar, and aimed at providing a glimpse at new forms of interactions between human, technology and nature –– a bit far fetched. Also showcased was the very smart looking Vision EQS, first introduced at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show and hinting at Mercedes’ future large EV.
The overall exhibit was very lean, even underdeveloped. Ariya, a mid-size SUV concept first introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show, was presented on center stage. This vehicle may closely resemble a product expected to launch in 2021. The interesting part is that Ariya is the first in a series of future vehicles to use Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi’s new twin motor EV platform.
The Michigan-based emerging OEM showcased R1T, its battery electric pick-up truck, at the Amazon Alexa booth. Fitted with two to four 130 kW motors and up to 180 kWh of battery capacity, the adventure-focused vehicle will launch in the US in late 2020 along with its sibling SUV, the R1S. For memory, Rivian raised $2.8B in 2019 alone and has received an order from Amazon (one of its investors) for 100,000 electric cargo vans.
Sony unexpectedly announced they are planning to enter the mobility space to develop new business opportunities. As a proof of their commitment, the company presented a concept vehicle named Vision S, a 4-door, 4.90 m long sedan with two 200 kW motors (picture below). Built by Magna, it showcases Sony’s tech including software, sensors (33 total inside and outside), widescreen displays, 360° audio, and always-on connectivity. Future plans for this vehicle are unclear.
First introduced at CES 2018, the e-Palette shuttle was the main attraction. It seemed to be in a more mature state, as it is to be deployed at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Surprisingly, there was nothing on EVs, autonomous driving or fuel cell tech. However, Toyota’s innovative city of tomorrow project, “Woven City,” was unveiled. The OEM plans to test how people, mobility and city will interact. About 2,000 residents are expected to start moving into this 70 hectare living laboratory in about 5 years.
Selected Highlights for the Supplier
The two German suppliers introduced a jointly developed, twin motor EV platform (picture below). With scalable battery storage, this rolling chassis, or “skateboard,” is ready for building an upper structure aimed for applications. However, it was surprising to see a tunnel on top of the battery pack, thus preventing a low, flat floor. It should be noted that the two suppliers announced a collaboration with Pininfarina, a VW Group subsidiary, last September. This skateboard approach is part of a trend, along with other skateboards offered by Rivian (to be used by Lincoln for a future SUV), AEV Robotics, REE or e-shock (unveiled at this CES).
The French supplier presented a number of innovative concepts in their pavillon, including a digital cockpit, immersive in-cabin experiences and others which I cannot disclose. Interestingly, Symbio, a 50/50 JV between Faurecia and Michelin developing fuel cell solutions, demonstrated a Renault Master battery electric cargo van on which they adapted a FC. The clever vehicle integration preserves both the cargo space and the cabin, while extending the EV’s range from 120 km to 300+ km with 3 kg of H2. Faurecia is contributing H2 tanks to complete Symbio’s FC stack and power electronics offering.
The Korean supplier was one of the few corporate exhibits showcasing concepts of autonomous electric shuttles — though there were fewer than in 2019. The objective here seem to be simply to demonstrate the company’s product portfolio as there are no indication of any intent to launch such a vehicle. The comment made earlier re. Hyundai applies here as well: it was surprising to see no communication whatsoever related to fuel cells.
The French supplier presented, eDeliver4U, its concept of an autonomous, battery electric delivery vehicle. Not too different from Nuro’s R1, it is designed for last mile delivery. It operates at up to 10 km/h, offering 100 km of range and measuring 2.80m long, 1.20m wide and 1.70m tall. The vehicle is powered by Valeo’s 48V system and was developed in partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant Meituan Dianping.
Lidar and other Level 4-related companies
The hype related the Level 4 autonomous driving has come down significantly over the past 12 months, any significant volume growth being postponed. Hundreds of startups (and investors) have placed significant bets on Level 4 autonomous driving, addressing Lidar, mapping and localization, image annotation, simulation or the software stack. Many of them are having difficulties raising funds to extend their runway. Instead, the vast amount of capital still available is spent on the few most promising companies in each segment.
As a result, many companies are forced to address alternative markets — at least temporarily. Others lack the necessary runway and have to sell themselves or even close down (several cases of both outcomes in 2019). Many who have the funds redirect their efforts towards ADAS applications and Level 2 autonomous driving where we observe an acceleration. For instance, Velodyne introduced Velabit, a new solid state Lidar the size of a matchbox size. It targets Level 2.5 autonomy with its 20 lines, 100 m range (80% reflectivity) and $100 price point in volume. The company also showcased application on a KnightScope security robot and a self-driver sweeper, proof they are looking for sales in other markets.
All in all, this was another very interesting CES, not just for the ideas that were unveiled but also for the opportunities to meet like-minded people. I already look forward to CES 2021, though not for the 45 km I walked over 3 days this year!
About the author: Marc Amblard is the Founder & Managing Director of Orsay Consulting. Based in Silicon Valley and focused on the mobility transformation, Orsay Consulting provides startup and tech scouting as well as advisory services to corporates, and advises startups on product-market fit, go-to-market strategy, business development and partnerships. You will find more articles on the Mobility Revolution here.