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The best automotive news of CES 2014

The auto industry has been slowly invading the Consumer Electronics Show over the course of the past several years — but in 2014, they've taken it to an entirely new level. The amount of attention CES is getting from top-tier car brands from around the world now rivals big auto shows, with a special focus on self-driving tech and the connected car. Here's the most interesting four-wheeled news we've encountered here in Vegas this year.

  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 17, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    BMW i3: driving the electric rebel in Munich's stable

    BMW i3
    BMW i3

    Let’s just get this out on the table: I’m a BMW fan. I’ve owned a couple of them over the years. There are multiple BMW-branded articles of clothing in my closet. I’ve written treatises on the misappropriation of the company’s emblems. Hell, my Twitter handle is an homage to the slogan of BMW’s Motorsport division, “M Power.”

    You might say that I take BMW seriously. So when I had an opportunity to go on a multi-hour drive of the curious, all-electric i3 at CES last week, I was happy to do so — but I had my reservations. The i3 doesn’t look like a BMW. It doesn’t sound like a BMW. It doesn’t suck BMW gasoline into a BMW engine. Could it possibly drive like a BMW?

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 14, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    The car of the future is in Detroit and the desert

    stingray
    stingray

    For journalists at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit on Monday, it was a perilously short weekend. Many, if not most, were in the desert just a couple days ago. It’s a sign of the times: CES in Las Vegas has suddenly become an auto show — arguably with the same level of clout and significance as NAIAS, a stalwart of the auto show circuit.

    But make no mistake, these are evolving into very different kinds of auto shows. NAIAS is a pure car expo through and through; it's where Mercedes-Benz unveiled its redesigned C-Class this week, BMW is showing production versions of the iconic M3 and M4, and Ford has an all-new F-150 pickup, among countless others. CES, meanwhile, is where you’re marshaled into rural Nevada to see Jetsons-style technology on four wheels. “I just need you to sign here, give me your driver’s license, and we can get started,” car companies told me, one after the next, before taking me into the desert to get behind the wheel of something you can’t yet buy.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 10, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    Automakers want to see through walls in the name of safety

    Ford V2V 1020
    Ford V2V 1020

    The cars we found parked on a closed course across the street from the Las Vegas Convention Center this week can't actually see through walls, but they come pretty close: Ford is here at CES demonstrating Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication (V2V), a promising technology under development that could have a significant impact on road safety.

    V2V has been in development for a number of years, using 802.11p — a simplified form of Wi-Fi geared specifically at the automotive industry — to beam bite-sized pieces of information between nearby cars. The specific mode that Ford is demonstrating is known as "Where I Am," which simply broadcasts your car's position, direction, speed, and other bits of situational information ten times per second to any other car close enough to listen.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 8, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    What happens if you fall asleep in a self-driving car? Audi knows

    Audi
    Audi

    Audi brought several high-tech car demos to CES this week — as it did last year — including two that took us out into the mean streets of Las Vegas, subject to the whims of rush hour traffic. Fortunately, we had a couple interesting new features making our bumper-to-bumper commutes just a little bit easier.

    First, we tested a system that feeds upcoming traffic light data directly into the cockpit. While driving, the next light on your road is indicated in green with a suggested speed next to it — if it says 45mph, for instance, that means you'll make the light if you're going 45. When the light's red or about to turn red, the system indicates how many more seconds you've got before it changes back to green; if the car has a start-stop engine, it'll automatically fire up with five seconds left on the red so that you're not waiting for the engine to spool up when you take your foot off the brake. The goal is to help you make more green lights on surface streets — and when you can't, at least you've got an idea of how long of a wait you're in for.

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  • Dante D'Orazio

    Jan 8, 2014

    Dante D'Orazio

    The electric grand prix: the world's first Formula E car packs a punch

    Spark-Renault SRT_01E Formula E (STOCK)
    Spark-Renault SRT_01E Formula E (STOCK)

    Electric cars have a bad reputation as ugly, expensive, slow cars with limited range. Cars like the Tesla Model S have gone a long way towards reversing public opinion, but what if there was a Formula 1 for electric cars? Come this September, there will be: it's called Formula E, and we've just seen the series' very first race car here at CES. It's called the Spark-Renault SRT_01E, and it has been made in conjunction with legendary motorsport companies like McLaren, Williams, and Dallara.

    There's nothing slow about this electric car: it maxes out at roughly 140mph and accelerates from 0 - 62mph in just 3 seconds. But unlike its motorsport cousins powered by combustion engines, it sounds nothing like a race car. Former F1 driver Lucas di Grassi piloted the Spark-Renault around a small Las Vegas parking lot, and as he burned out and punched the accelerator the engine emitted a high-pitch buzzing sound. In truth, it sounds like a souped-up RC car, and compared to the deafening notes produced by traditional race cars, it's downright underwhelming. Alejandro Agag, CEO of Formula E Holdings, told The Verge that they're not considering adding artificial sounds to the vehicles during races — the only time cars will make fake sounds is while they're driving down pit row, for safety reasons.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 7, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    The self-drifting car: taking a BMW to the limit in Las Vegas

    BMW CES 2014
    BMW CES 2014

    Self-driving cars aren't supposed to make you puke, are they?

    A couple laps in BMW's latest autonomous driving demo, taking place here at CES this week, are all it took to get me feeling a little woozy. And there's a good reason for that: the car was whipping itself around an infield road track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the very outer limits of its capabilities, guided only be its own high-resolution GPS and the usual array of sensors found on every automakers' self-driving cars.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 7, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    A tablet for your car? Audi shows Android-powered Smart Display at CES

    audi smart display
    audi smart display

    Audi didn't show a new car today — it showed a new tablet. The so-called Audi Smart Display integrates with the car's systems via Wi-Fi, letting passengers control the radio and access the internet via the car's built-in LTE connection (the company just announced a new partnership with AT&T for connectivity yesterday evening) on the 10.2-inch display. It's also a ruggedized unit that can be used in extremely cold temperatures, so it's clearly meant to be taken beyond the car once you reach your destination. The Smart Display uses Nvidia's Tegra T40 processor — a Tegra 4 variant — which means it's no slouch, but not quite on pace with 2014's latest and greatest. It offers Google Play, so it has access to the entire universe of Android apps.

    There's no indication that the tablet will actually come to market — or why you would actually buy an Audi-branded tablet, for that matter — but if nothing else, it foreshadows the kind of connectivity with Android-powered phones and tablets that Audi is likely looking to achieve with the launch of the Open Automotive Alliance.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 7, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    Mercedes-Benz announces in-car integration with Nest thermostat

    MB Nest integration
    MB Nest integration

    At CES today, Mercedes-Benz announced that it will be adding Nest support to its vehicles, meaning that drivers will be able to tweak the temperature at home right through their dashboards. The integration makes quite a bit of sense — remote control is one of the big features of Nest's popular connected thermostats — but Mercedes is taking it a step further: you'll be able to set your house to automatically heat up or cool down when you're on your way home.

    The connected car has been one of the main stories of CES this year — multiple automakers are debuting apps and app platforms at the show — but many of the announcements have focused on streaming music and location-based services. In that regard, smart-home integration is a particularly interesting angle, particularly with this wildly popular brand on board. The app will be available this spring with the launch of Mercedes' Digital DriveStyle smartphone companion app.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 6, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    Google's Open Automotive Alliance: the battle for the dashboard is now

    Android 4.0 welcome robot (STOCK)
    Android 4.0 welcome robot (STOCK)

    Last night's announcement of the Open Automotive Alliance — a new industry group helmed by Google and top-tier automakers like Audi, GM, and Honda — served as the loudest call yet of CES's rapid transformation over the past couple years into a car show. Yes, not just a car-friendly show, an actual car show: automakers from BMW to Volvo have announcements lined up for this week. More than ever, keynote addresses and press conferences from auto industry executives now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their counterparts from Sony and Samsung.

    CES — and the futurism that is inexorably linked to it — have long been at loggerheads with cars, polluting relics of the twentieth century with no place in our high-tech tomorrow (or so the logic went). But with smartphones plateauing and Tesla invigorating Silicon Valley in a way that Detroit never could, there's a feeling in the air that cars are the next Wild West in consumer electronics: an exciting place of trial and error where engineers and designers are trying to figure out what works and what doesn't while billions of dollars lie on the table in wait.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 6, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    Toyota will sell a fuel-cell car around the world in 2015

    Toyota fuel cell concept
    Toyota fuel cell concept

    Toyota says it'll launch its fuel cell car first in California — the same state where Honda has offered its FCX Clarity on lease. California is a frequent target for early alternative fuel vehicle launches, and for good reason; as Toyota notes, California has approved some $200 million to build hydrogen refueling stations statewide starting with 20 by next year. Details of the production car haven't been released, but the prototype model that Toyota has been testing recently delivers 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen and takes three to five minutes to top off — reasonable numbers for a car that real-world drivers might want to own.

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  • Joshua Topolsky

    Jan 6, 2014

    Joshua Topolsky

    Lean into it: test driving Toyota's i-Road concept car

    iroad lede
    iroad lede

    First introduced at last year's Geneva Auto Show, Toyota's bizarre i-Road doesn't seem like the kind of car that could ever make the leap from a rotating platform on a well-lit stage to the street. In fact, calling it a "car" seems like a stretch: it's more like a transportation pod beamed straight from the future, a narrow, electric, three-wheeled hauler that automatically leans itself sharply into turns. It seats just one — two, if you're working with particularly diminutive humans — and tops out at around 28 miles per hour. It does just 30 miles on a single charge.

    And yet Toyota announced later in 2013 that it would be putting the i-Road into car-sharing trials in Japan and France. What's the appeal?

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  • Aaron Souppouris

    Jan 6, 2014

    Aaron Souppouris

    Google launches the Android-based Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, Honda, GM, and more

    Google 3D logo white stock 1020
    Google 3D logo white stock 1020

    Google and a number of automakers are planning to bring Android to cars with the launch of a new group called the Open Automotive Alliance. The alliance consists of Google, GM, Honda, Audi, Hyundai, and chipmaker Nvidia, and will focus on bringing the successful mobile operating system to in-car entertainment systems "in a way that is purpose built for cars." The first cars with Android integration are planned for launch by the end of 2014.

    In a press release, the group outlines its plans for the future, noting that it hopes to add more automakers and technology companies down the line. Its focus at the moment is to develop new features for Android that'll allow developers to easily add car modes to their apps. The Open Automotive Alliance has already been in touch with the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in order to ensure the system is safe for in-car use. Its primary goal is to "bring the best of Android into the automobile in a safe and seamless way."

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 6, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    Cars are the new smartphones: Chevrolet adding LTE and app store to 2015 models

    Chevrolet AppShop
    Chevrolet AppShop

    Apart from the engine, wheels, seats, and enormous difference in size, 2015 Chevys will be nearly indistinguishable from smartphones: General Motors is announcing at CES today that next year's lineup with be available with built-in LTE and an app store. The so-called Chevrolet AppShop is the end result of GM's news at CES a year ago when it first offered an app SDK to developers; LTE, meanwhile, has been in the works since an announcement in February of last year.

    AppShop looks and feels like a rudimentary iOS App Store or Google Play, presenting a list of available apps that's called up by tapping an icon on the car's touchscreen. Downloaded apps can be updated automatically, rearranged on the home screen, and deleted at will. At launch, there won't be many apps to choose from — roughly a dozen have been announced so far — but don't expect the catalog to suddenly explode. "I want to stress this point, we're not here trying to say we're going to have thousands of apps. It's not about the quantity of apps. We recognize that there are some things that are really beneficial either to the driving experience or the ownership experience," says Tim Nixon, CTO of GM's Global Connected Consumer division.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 5, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    Corvette's Performance Data Recorder turns your drive into a video game

    Corvette PDR lead
    Corvette PDR lead

    You've heard of the quantified self, but what about the quantified car?

    Chevrolet brought journalists to Spring Mountain Raceway this weekend — some 60 miles beyond the glitz of CES and the Vegas Strip — to demonstrate the 2015 Corvette's Performance Data Recorder, a GoPro-on-steroids that's integrated directly into the car. The system includes a high-resolution GPS receiver that's five times more sensitive than the Corvette's standard navigation system, a mic recording the cabin, and a forward-facing 720p camera embedded behind the windshield that combine to output a stream of data to an SD card in the glove box.

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  • Chris Ziegler

    Jan 2, 2014

    Chris Ziegler

    Ford's C-Max Solar Energi concept car is a sun-powered hybrid

    Ford will be using CES as the stage next week to show off its new C-Max Solar Energi concept, a plug-in hybrid with a twist: instead of actually plugging it into an outlet when it's parked, you can just let the sun do the work. The company worked with the Georgia Institute of Technology and California solar energy firm SunPower on the project, which uses Fresnel lenses to concentrate the sun's rays on a relatively compact panel atop the C-Max's roof. The system is also capable of tracking the sun as it moves from east to west, adding up to the equivalent of a four-hour plug-in charge if you leave it sitting in the sun for a full day. Ford's quoted range on the car adds up to 620 miles off a combination of gas and electric, with up to 21 electric-only miles. Presumably, optimal charging only happens on a sunny day, but the Solar Energi can still be plugged in if needed.

    The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker already commercially offers a plug-in hybrid version of the C-Max — the Energi — and Ford says that it'll be trialling the Solar Energi in real-world situations beginning after CES to determine how feasible it'd be to bring the solar-augmented version to market. Considering that Ford already works with SunPower on a solar charging package for its electric Focus, the idea certainly isn't far-fetched.

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