Reporting From CES 2024
Is CES a Car Show?
LACar's Don Taylor reports from CES in Las Vegas. The Big 3 might be lacking but an abundance of other manufacturers are making a big splash.
By Don Taylor
Wed, Jan 24, 2024 01:40 PM PST
Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.
Have you noticed that everyone keeps saying “CES is now a Car Show”? Well yes, over the past decade it has grown in the number of auto manufacturers and suppliers taking over substantial exhibit space, and now dominating the Las Vegas Convention Center’s West Hall.
However, I knew ahead of time that even with this transition, the number of traditional vehicle manufacturers at CES was dropping off, much as we have seen at LA Auto Show and at SEMA. Most notably missing in action this year in Las Vegas were to be the American Big Three.
We know that the “Big 3” are not so big anymore. While they may represent the traditional core of the US market, and what we call the “American car manufacturers” if you’re of Joe Biden’s generation, together they hold less than half of the domestic market. But can there be a ‘car show’ without them?
Until recently, a “car show” implied a gathering of all the available cars for sale in that market, for all to see and compare, whether they had something new, or not.
But the model of the CES Show is different. Companies, of all types have discovered the value of being there only when they have something new and significant to show, or a new story to tell about where they are headed. Exhibitors don’t automatically become seasonal squatters, returning to the same nest every year as in auto shows past. I love that CES is an event that is constantly evolving, churning, and morphing to continually be on the cutting edge, serving what and new and hot; it’s not for warmed-over leftovers.
With a lengthy new-product development cycle, vehicle manufactures don’t necessarily have something really new to show every single year. A new grille and taillights may have qualified in the past as ‘new’, but not anymore.
Looking at the Big 3 US auto companies, a few years ago their revolutionary message at CES was, “Look at us, we’re going electric, and getting into that autonomous driving thing!” and the point was well made. Today, they are back home trying hard to make that work technically and financially.
This gave the other existing and newbie vehicle manufacturers a clear runway to show something new at CES. And they certainly did last week!
Let’s take a quick look at the major ‘show and tell’ automotive stories from those auto companies who were at CES 2024. We’ll start with the big announcements that everyone else is covering, and about which you can read in more detail elsewhere. After that we can look at the other vehicles we discovered scattered around the LVCC complex and make some observations.
The Big Announcements
Hyundai, thru its Hyundai, Kia, HD Hyundai, and Mobus brands has become the heavy hitter at CES, with a whole lot to show and tell. They ran the table from exhibiting current and near term products like the KIA EV3 and EV4 concepts, to near-term tech like the Mobius crab-steering ‘easy park’ technology.
They also debuted KIA’s PBV (Platform Beyond Vehicle) modular, small commercial vehicle line-up, plus HD Hyundai’s autonomous, electric-powered construction equipment, and the Hyundai Supernal S-A2 electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) airplane.
Additionally, they spun a dreamy-eyed version of a world transitioned to hydrogen power by 2050. You have to hand it to Hyundai; they think big, and each of their announcements would deserve a deep-dive story, if we had the time.
Honda, now fully engaged with the EV revolution, wants to regain their powertrain leadership and leap ahead of the competition with their new “Thin, Light and Wise” strategy. This approach will result in thinner chassis platform packaging, lighter batteries, more efficiency, AI, …and so on.
They are calling the resulting new generation of vehicles the Zero, or “Honda O Series”, complete with a new logo. This was previewed in the form of two concept cars, the low profile “Saloon” and the “Space-Hub”, promised first for sale in the US in 2026, followed by world distribution.
Sony Honda Mobility
Meanwhile, not far from Honda’s 0 Series unveiling in the North Hall, at the Sony Honda Mobility booth in Central Hall, an “Afeela” sedan prototype car was shown, which from the outside looked a whole lot like last year’s version. But it has been pitched all along as a platform for driver and passenger experiences with ever-evolving gaming and AI capability inside, for whenever it does finally come out.
2026 is now the production target date, which means it would be hitting the showroom floor at the same time as the Honda O Series. I hope these two divisions of Honda are talking to one another about their prospective rollout plans.
The focus here was on Mercedes vision of the driver and passenger experience, with larger AI driven, non-stop display screens, including capabilities enabled by partnerships like that with Amazon Music.
They have also recruited rapper will.i.am to design their electric vehicle sound experience, as they presumably lack an in-house hip hop department.
Mercedes main vehicle draw was a stunning Concept CLA Class machine in candycane red and white, twinkling like Santa’s sleigh taking a post-Christmas victory lap. MB also brought along a lightly camouflaged electric 2025 EQG Wagon to balance things out.
VW came to announce their partnership with Cerence to integrate ChatGPT voice control into their vehicle lineup. Just how powerful is this revolutionary, smarter-than-any-human, tool going to be? During an in-car demonstration of the system, the driver announced, “I like to eat butter chicken”, prompting Ida (their chatbot) to read his mind and immediately respond with a list of nearby Indian restaurants. That’s it? That’s all? My fear of AI taking over the world was suddenly diminished.
VW also gave a sneak peek of the Golf Mk 8.5 facelift, and presumably the last ICE GTI. Scrambling to look inside, media event attendees were most excited to see that buttons had returned to the steering wheel. They were less concerned about butter chicken.
After last year’s unveiling of the BMW i Vision Dee midsize sedan concept, featuring its "Neue Klasse” styling direction, and E ink color changing body panels, the Ultimate Driving Machine company didn’t have such big news this time around. There was a demo of a remote control, valet parking feature, and the voice assistant who can answer technical questions, but nothing as creatively disruptive as in 2023.
BMW was disadvantaged because of their remote location, and chilly weather. While their outdoor “BMW Plaza” outpost provides space for test rides, it presents a long, single-purpose hike for show attendees as the adjacent South Halls were unoccupied with the exhibitor migration to the newer West Hall.
Still getting up to speed with its distribution in the US, Vinfast showed two concept vehicles as a preview of what to expect next from the ambitious Vietnamese manufacturer.
One was the very aggressively styled, Wild pickup truck. No, that’s its name: Wild.
And at the other end of the behavior spectrum was a most docile looking mini-SUV named VF 3. Irresistible in yellow and white, it could easily be mistaken for a baby Ford Bronco.
Brea, CA based Mullen Automotive is best known by its acquisition of the boxy Bollinger Land Rover-like electric vehicles, and now for its boxy electric commercial trucks.
At CES they premiered the Mullen FIVE RS, a slick, 1,000 HP sporty crossover, based on their versatile EV platform. It is slated for production with European launch in 2025. Cool.
Xpeng Aeroht, a subsidiary of Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng Motors showed a flying-car, the eVTOL flying supercar, which couldn’t be ignored. I say that because of its sheer size on stage, and the expectation that the modest propellers on its four swing-out arms would be enough to lift it. Xpeng claims it has “the driving experience of a supercar” (which would require a lot of battery weight), but it can “transform effortlessly from land to flight mode.” No one told the bumble bee that it couldn’t fly either… We’ll be watching out for it.
If that wasn’t ambitious enough, they also have under development a six wheel, offroad vehicle design which carries a helicopter: a handy way to stop and enjoy the outdoors from above. Why not?
Beside attending those big announcements, by walking the aisles I was pleased to find several other interesting new vehicles worthy of attention.
HONPE Archetype GT-Limousine
HONPE is an automobile prototyping company in China which was there to show off its automotive build capabilities with a sleek four door concept car, the Archetype GT-Limousine.
For me the interesting part is knowing who had designed the stunning vehicle. Turns out it was Michael Robinson, the American who has spent his professional life in Italy with Fiat, Lancia, and Bertone among others. He was in town to talk about his design, which he completed in just one week, and then witnessed it come to life in just 45 days at HONPE.
Happily, Michael said he will be doing more work with HONPE in the future.
Qualcomm - Snapdragon
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon vehicle connectivity processor group commissioned the appropriately named Snapdragon, a ‘digital chassis’ concept car.
While less a styling concept and more of a tech-demonstrator, it was very attractive and looked ready to go if it was production bound.
LG able EV
The LG able EV was another electronic cockpit tech-demonstrator.
While it looked less road-worthy than the Snapdragon and more at home on a static display stand, it still represents the hard work of a car designer and prototype builder out there somewhere.
Those folks are the unsung heroes, working long hours and striving for perfection, in order to get all of those concept cars we saw done on time.
Indigo, is a Massachusetts-based company that started out with a ‘smart wheel’ invention which incorportes suspension and an electric motor, that is now a startup vehicle manufacturer.
They showed several last-mile delivery vans which looked production ready.
Foxconn-initiated MIH (Mobility in Harmony) Consortium's ElectriCity showed a couple of vehicle prototypes. One was the very cute MIH Project X Concept Car with adaptable seating for two or three passengers.
The other was the B–ON, Pelkan commercial vehicle, equipped “smart package dispenser technology”, a system which pushed the parcels out, right into the hands of the smiling ‘delivery person’ working the booth.
Olympian Motors is a start-up EV company, based in New York. In the world of sleek futuristic designs, they have decided to stand out by offering their 01 EV model with “timeless class and aesthetics”, namely a vehicle with somewhat charming 1940-50’s coupe styling, minus the running boards but including wire wheels. Mission accomplished. Yes, it did stand out.
I can imagine the target buyer profile: Pipe-puffing New Englander, tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, owned the first MG in town in the 1950’s, fanaticizes picking up Martha Stewart at her farmhouse in his new Olympian 01. (Note: Martha was at CES opening day. Don’t know if she made it to the Olympian booth.)
Seeing the name Lotus, I had to check it out. Yep. Lotus Robotics is a group within the Chinese company which now owns and operates the Lotus car company.
They did have a car ‘skateboard’ chassis there for inspection, as well as their autonomous, industrial RoboCube which was roaming around like a driverless Zamboni in an ice rink.
I came upon a number of other interesting cars playing supporting roles in supplier booths. Highlighting the Goodyear tire stand was the LeMans 24 Hour, Garage 56, NASCAR Camaro. Another car I had also seen at Goodwood last summer, and was surprised to see at CES, was the neat McMurtry Speirling, the record-setting, limited production, single seater, ground effects fan car. It was poking its head out of the Molicel battery technology booth. Elsewhere, a 2024 Geely Galaxy E8 sedan sat majestically in the BOE Displays booth.
Just as it seems like anyone can design and introduce a new car today, it is even easier to build an e-bike or scooter. And they populated CES in in large numbers.
Whether you want sleek, or folding, or an old-fashioned fat-tire variety, they had ‘em. The new ones are branded with moniker gems like HeyBike, Topsecret, and DrgnFly.
Beyond that, with miles of aisles to walk, even in five days we hardly had time to check out all of the commuter pods. While they all look pretty similar, with sliding side doors and lots of glass area, each has a unique use and value proposition.
Claims And Terms
With over 4,300 exhibitors at CES, including more than 1,400 start-ups trying to attract attention led to the overuse of some terms like “game changing”, “revolutionary”, “world’s first…”. But maybe they all were: each in their own category. The CES app does show 48 categories of products including Food Tech, AgTech, Metaverse, and Wellness Technologies. (Reminder: CES is not just a Car Show, and everything today is electronic…and soon to be AI assisted.)
A note about AI, artificial intelligence and autos. As one would expect this year, just about all of the vehicle makers claimed to have AI-aided software this-or-that applied to optimize entertainment, navigation, safety, or just for somehow improving the all-around driver experience. Whatever it ultimately can do, look for it in your next vehicle purchase.
There were two frequently seen terms that stuck with me at CES. The first was ‘Partners’. A lot of partnerships were announced last week. In the old days, Ford could cast their own steel, grow the lumber, sew the upholstery…with little outside assistance. And, GM had in-house divisions like Harrison for radiators, Delco for radios, Saginaw for steering, etc. But today, all the world’s car companies need ‘partners’, especially the ones who know more than they do about electric and self-driving car components like motors, sensors, batteries, displays, and now AI.
And so today, it is all of those independent partner/suppliers floating around that make designing a car and starting up a car company easier than ever. Skateboard platforms for commercial, public, and private vehicles of all sorts have been developed and are at the ready, complete with motors, batteries, controllers, inverters, integrated with such hardware items as suspension, steering, and brakes. As a result, we see new vehicle companies popping up, large and small. Buy the underpinnings, add your own body, and off you go! (Of course actually making it into production and being profitable is a whole other thing…).
The second term was the “Software Defined Car”. Huh? Does that mean we’ll be evolving to the point of making a particular vehicle purchase primarily based on its unique ability to entertain, inform, navigate, and communicate?
As in the selection of a cell phone, will the car’s showroom appeal be in its entertainment, safety, and navigation capabilities as defined by its software, with the hardware skateboard, and other mechanical bits just being there to sit in and hold the pieces together? Will the car’s body and styling, the thing with which we are so in love, be reduced to the equivalent of an easily-replaced, snap-on cell phone case? What do you want? Otterbox? Speck? A see-thru Candy body for your Cadillac platform?
After attending the CES Show on and off since 1973, I have to say there is no better look into the future of everything, and it brings up questions like those above. As a ‘car show’, it ranks as one of the top annual events with me. Even without the Big 3, there were lots of exciting vehicles to see, and so many from new manufacturers.
For me, CES gives the best inside look at the technology and ideas that are creating this most exciting era in the automotive world.
About The Author
Don Taylor formerly ran the NASCAR program for General Motors, worked as a car stylist at the Ford Motor Company, and as a National Tech Director for the NHRA. He currently serves as Director of the Stand 21 Safety Foundation, and for the UK’s Motorsport Industry Association. Taylor also writes articles for the UK’s Racecar Engineering magazine. Don currently lives in Boston, but makes frequent trips to Charlotte and to the West Coast, still owning a home in Pasadena.