When General Motors CEO Mary Barra goes online to talk about the upcoming Chevrolet battery-electric pickup next Tuesday, she’ll be just one of the many auto industry executives scheduled to take part in the “virtual CES.”
Of all the big public events impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, perhaps none is more well-suited to take things entirely online than the annual Consumer Electronics Show that is normally the single biggest gathering in Las Vegas. And, as has become the norm in recent years, the auto industry is staking out a significant presence alongside the TV, game console and drone manufacturers to underscore the increasingly high-tech nature of the latest vehicles.
This year’s gathering won’t bring quite as many brands as were seen at the Las Vegas Convention Center in January 2020, but CES 2021 will still offer insights into the push for electrified and autonomous vehicles, as well as all the various high-tech apps and features coming to market over the next year or two.
If anything, automakers are hoping to extend their reach considering the traditional challenges CES showgoers can face with tight schedules and tightly packed exhibits.
Fiat Chrysler – in its last major event before completing its merger with PSA Group – “has built a virtual world where CES participants can be immersed in a variety of vehicle related options and learn about the company’s commitment to innovation,” the automaker suggested in an advance news release. Among other things, it will offer an Augmented Reality, or AR, look at the new Jeep Wrangler 4Xe hybrids first previewed in prototype form at last year’s CES.
Visitors will be able to take guided or self-guided tours that will give them 360-degree walkarounds of products like the high-tech Jeep Grand Wagoneer Concept, and some of the new products the automaker is beginning to electrify.
CES has become an increasingly important alternative to conventional car shows as automakers have pushed into autonomous and electric vehicles. General Motors used the event to introduce its first long-range BEV, the Chevrolet Bolt, five years ago. And Barra is expected to focus on GM’s newly expanded EV program during her Tuesday keynote address, among other things offering the first real details about the Chevy pickup and other upcoming products.
But a number of the automaker’s other senior execs will be spotlighted next week, including Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl, as well as President Mark Reuss who will be interviewed by best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. Along with Chevrolet, expect to hear lots about Cadillac which is on its way to going entirely electric by 2030.
Mercedes-Benz will have more to say about the new Hyperscreen technology debuting in its EQS, the long-range alternative to the familiar S-Class.
“Bigger is better” when it comes to in-car screen technology, according to Daimler’s creative chief Gordon Wagener, and a lot of online event time will focus on the latest in dashboard displays, as well as the services and apps they’ll be using. Of course, vehicle cybersecurity concerns will be the focus of a number of presentations, as well.
Mega-suppliers Magna International and LG Electronics will talk about their new joint venture and it would surprise few if Magna offers insight about its plan to partner with EV startups such as Fisker. That California Tesla competitor plans to use a new Magna platform to underpin its Ocean SUV, which will be assembled at the Magna Steyr plant in Graz, Austria.
Bosch, the world’s largest auto supplier, will be holding a virtual event with Bridgestone to talk about in-vehicle entertainment systems.
Surprisingly, a few names that have become regulars at CES won’t be staging a virtual presence this year, including Hyundai and Toyota. The Korean carmaker last year revealed a full-size mock-up of the flying taxi it is developing while its Japanese rival unveiled plans to create an all-new community in the shadow of Mount Fuji based on the use of sustainable energy, materials and transportation.
While the big automakers and suppliers tend to grab the CES headlines, there’ll be lots of smaller players on hand, including a fair number of start-ups, based on the flood of invitations and press releases flowing into TheDetroitBureau.com’s virtual mailbox. They’ll be pitching air purifiers claiming to protect passengers from COVID-19, add-on infotainment systems and even digital traction mats to help drivers avoid getting stuck in the snow.
We’ll be following all the major stories – and a fair number of smaller ones – when we visit virtual CES all next week.