Written by Jeremy Ertl | Associate PR Director
It’s been a hot minute, but we’re back in 2023 with more transportation headlines than ever. For anyone new to the column, we aim to share interesting links, thoughts on trending stories and more about the future of transportation in regular installments, and we’ve got a lot to cover this month, so let’s get started.
Everything (Electric) Everywhere All at Once
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas came roaring back for 2023, showcasing the latest advancements in electric vehicles (EVs) and automotive technology. We’re sad to report that M3GAN was nowhere in sight despite the absolute dominance of AI platform news, but let’s talk about some of our favorites:
Can’t Fight This Afeela’n
We initially reported on the Sony and Honda affair back in June (giving Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes a run for their money), but the companies officially launched the Afeela EV at this year’s show, report Bloomberg and TechCrunch.
Aside from the *fun* name, the sedan (pictured above) will feature 45 sensors throughout the vehicle, Level 3 automated driving capabilities, and integration of external media along the front of the car that allows it to interact with other road users and share necessary information. Afeela was designed in partnership with both Qualcomm and Epic Games as “a software-defined vehicle,” providing constant updates to users in the form of software, 5G connectivity and entertainment.
Initial orders will be taken in 2025 with shipments delivered to customers in North America in the spring of 2026.
Ram, the Golden Retriever of Electric Pickups
Primed for a battle with Rivian, Ram unveiled their 1500 Revolution BEV pickup concept at this year’s show with the headline that it “will follow you like a puppy and just about charge itself,” via Automotive News.
To elaborate on that, the pickup claims to surpass its competitors in range, towing power, payload and charge time, plus utilize automated charging. It can also follow a walking driver, like a loyal dog, via voice commands and onboard sensors, for situations where the driver needs to move the vehicle only a short distance and maybe doesn’t want to get back in the cab.
Stellantis, who owns the Ram brand, described differentiating the electric concept from the company’s traditional diesel offerings and landed on the concept of “brutiful” – a portmanteau of “brutal yet beautiful” (which is also my outlook on 2023).
Radical interior overhaul was a major theme at this year’s CES, with companies showcasing several different versions of their own “cockpit of the future.”
BMV’s version will embrace a sleek, minimalist design, featuring zero buttons or switches where the windshield acts as a giant voice-controlled display (Bloomberg). Available as early as 2025, the vehicle will utilize Amazon voice recognition technology and otherwise feature technology developed in house at BMW in an attempt to shut out tech giants.
Chrysler’s version will incorporate several upcoming Stellantis platforms to learn driver preferences through advanced AI (Automotive News), designed to adapt and enhance the user interface over time and over-the-air updates to automatically download fresh content and enhancements for the owner.
Water, Mints, VR?
Holoride, a VR startup backed by Audi, unveiled a $799 device the size of a Bluetooth speaker that can be retrofitted to any vehicle to make it a virtual reality (VR) entertainment system on wheels (TechCrunch).
What does that experience look like, you might ask? Well, you won’t be playing “The Last of Us” in your backseat anytime soon. The device currently senses the car’s motion and position and transmits it to the VR headset offering very specific, non-nauseating “in-car motion-synced experiences.” Check out CNET’s in-ride review here.
Prior to the announcement, Holoride technology had only been made available in certain model year ‘22 (and newer) Audi vehicles, so this greatly expands the company’s market base.
The future of backseat technology, or game over for “are we there yet”?
Yes, CES had its fair share of game-changing announcements in the transportation world, but we’re covering two months here, so we need to move on. Check out Wired’s full roundup of the best cars, rides, and auto tech at the show for more.
Level 3 Autonomy Hits the Streets
Speaking of upgrading your road trip game…
According to Car and Driver, Mercedes will debut the first Level 3 autonomous system approved for U.S. roads, allowing conditional hands-free driving on its 2024 Mercedes-Benz EQS Sedan and S-Class vehicles.
You may have hovered over the word “conditional” above. The system, called Drive Pilot, is designed to handle primary driving duties (touching the steering wheel, watching the road, etc.) without constant monitoring or management. A “driver” would be able to play a videogame (Tetris was played in the demo, according to Insider) or browse the internet while the vehicle routed you to your destination.
This is distinct from Level 2 systems like GM’s Super Cruise and Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving Beta” (which is currently under scrutiny for its name and also caused an eight-car pileup in the Bay Area recently), both which have systems in place to make sure a driver is continuously looking at the road.
The user must still remain awake (we’re far from there, people) and be able to take the wheel at a moment’s notice. Drive Pilot is also currently only designed to work at speeds up to 40mph.
The company has been running a pilot of the program in Germany since May, but so far only received regulatory approval in Nevada.
In this case, we’re anticipating what happens in Vegas will in fact not stay in Vegas.
America is Entering Its “Fully Charged” Era
With eight times more charging stations needed by 2030 to accommodate the increased adoption of EVs (Insider), it looks like relief may be on the way with 2023 shaping up to be the year of the charging network announcement. Let’s dive into some recent updates:
- Mercedes-Benz (their PR team had a busy holiday season) is teaming up with MN8 and ChargePoint on the installation of 400 charging hubs in key cities and along major highways in North America (The Verge), investing nearly $1 billion to install 2,500 DC fast-charging plugs.
- GM has committed to installing 40,000 chargers in mostly rural parts of America (CNN), with rollout already beginning in Michigan and Wisconsin (Forbes).
- Even commercial operations are taking off. Volvo and Pilot are developing a national, public charging network open to heavy-duty vehicles of all brands (but with emphasis on Volvo’s own VNR Electric), installing high-performance chargers at existing Pilot and Flying J travel centers across the U.S. (Fleet Equipment).
But how will EV drivers find all these new charging stations? There’s an app for that.
Also announced at CES, Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant will soon (just put EOY in your calendar reminder) be able to help users find charging stations while on the road (CNBC). Through partnership with EVGo, one of the largest U.S. charging networks, Alexa will be able to navigate drivers to the nearest charging station to “refuel” with an added bonus: if the charger happens to be from EVGo, Alexa can also help initiate and pay for the charge.
- 70 years after the first Corvette dropped, GM is giving its iconic American sports car a hybrid revamp, introducing the first-ever electrified (and AWD) Corvette: the 2024 E-Ray (CNN)
- Every late-night, impulse TikTok purchase has its thorn, but DoorDash is launching Package Pickup for all your unwanted returns (FreightWaves)
- AVs are all fun and games until you think about being hands- or driver-free on an icy road – thankfully Goodyear and Gatik have taken the wheel, with the successful deployment of road friction detection tech that measures low-grip conditions like snow and ice (TechCrunch)
- Walmart hit an important milestone for its drone delivery program, with more than 2,000 deliveries landing on doorsteps in 2022 (Supply Chain Dive)
- The Axios team analyzed the iconic American pickup truck through history and how it evolved “from workhorse to joyride” – bigger, badder and more status symbol than utility vehicle
- Southwest Airlines is offering 25,000 frequent flier points to those impacted by its holiday fiasco (CNN). The mass cancellations (otherwise known as “Southwestgate” by me and me alone) could end up costing the company $825 million (NYT).
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