Jim Fellinger, Sr. Manager of CES and Industry, Communications Consumer Technology Association

Michael Floyd, Director of Editorial Operations, MotorTrend

Alex Hirschi, Owner & Co-Founder, Supercar Blondie

Niklaus Hirschi, CEO, Supercar Blondie

Dan Zukowski, Transportation Reporter, Smart Cities Dive

James Kotecki (00:08):

This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki, back with more intel from day 2 of CES 2023 in Las Vegas. We convened another great media panel to share the ideas and insights they're seeing at the world's most influential tech event. Enjoy this conversation direct from CES.

Jim Fellinger (00:31):

All right, welcome everyone. It's great to have you here this afternoon. My name is Jim Fellinger. I am a senior manager on the communications team at the Consumer Technology Association. I'm joined by an amazing panel here today to talk about the future of mobility. So without any further ado, I'll let them introduce themselves.

Alexandra Darvall (00:49):

All right. Okay, here we go. I'm Alex, otherwise known as Supercar Blondie online. We started our online creation or content creation about five years ago, and we now have a hundred million followers across our platforms. So all the social media platforms you can think of, we're on there. And we look at the latest tech in cars. And future cars, supercars, concept cars, that's kind of our specialty.

Jim Fellinger (01:19):

Fantastic.

Niklaus Hirschi (01:20):

My name is Nick. I'm the co-founder of Supercar Blondie and run the day-to-day operations. And yeah, we've started as an influencer, basically pre-COVID, and then when COVID hit and put a hard lockdown, we had to find a new way to generate content and build the team out. And now about 40 people across the globe that generate content and robotics and future tech is really up there with us as the car world and the tech world sort of merge.

Jim Fellinger (01:53):

Fantastic.

Dan Zukowski (01:55):

And my name is Dan Zukowski. I'm the transportation reporter for Smart Cities Dive, where I cover planes, trains, and automobiles. And a good portion of my career has been in and around the auto industry, so very happy to be here.

Mike Floyd (02:08):

Hey everybody, I'm Mike Floyd. I'm the director of editorial operations for Motortrend. Obviously, one of the oldest biggest brands in automotive dome and been with the company about 16 years in various roles and obviously we're one of the biggest outlets out there in the world. Do all kinds of things, video, photos, you name it, words, we do it all. We do it every day. So I'm glad to be here.

Jim Fellinger (02:37):

Fantastic. Well, I'm going to dive into some specific questions about mobility, but I want to start off with something fun. So can each of you tell me what has surprised you most at this year's CES?

Alexandra Darvall (02:48):

Should I start?

Jim Fellinger (02:48):

Feel free.

Alexandra Darvall (02:50):

Okay. So for me, it's been really cool to see the color changing technology. I'm not sure if it's practical uses at the moment, but I just think it's cool that we can do this now with cars. So for example, with the VW ID.7, they have this phosphorous layer that glows when you put electric currents through it. And so you can see that car here where different panels kind of glow and light up. And then you've got the BMW i Vision Dee, and that technology has moved on from last year. I don't know if you guys remember, but it is kind of a big deal when they launched their car last year with the black and white colored changing technology and now they've actually upped the game to 32 colors. So I was talking to the engineer yesterday and she said it was quite difficult to actually program each color because you've got to understand how or which voltage equals which color.

(03:46):

So say if you run a 12 volts through it, then that might be light blue. If you run 40 volts through it, that might be a red or something. So it took about 8 or 9 months for the team to work out what voltage equals what color. And depending on the program that they put through the layers, a certain color of paint comes to the surface. And I just think that's really cool. For example, maybe in future, we can use this for military vehicles, for camouflage tech, something like that. Otherwise, other practical uses could be blinker systems instead of having the lights blink, just a part of the whole car will blink from white to yellow or something like that. So I think it's pretty cool.

Jim Fellinger (04:29):

Amazing.

Niklaus Hirschi (04:31):

Yeah, I was fortunate to have dinner with the president of BYD, Stella Li last night, and I wasn't too much aware of actually what BYD was doing, because they're mainly based out of China, but they've become the world's largest seller of EVs. They're selling by 1.8 or 1.9 million individual vehicles this year, which is more than Tesla. And we looked at the BYD yesterday on the cars and what you see is the future of mobility of changing more and morphing the humans with the car itself and creating living spaces out of that as cars become autonomous. And what they've put in is that karaoke system. So you can literally have, they have a microphone in the car itself and you can start singing karaoke and I've never seen that before. So yeah, that was my highlight.

Jim Fellinger (05:20):

Fantastic. Dan?

Dan Zukowski (05:22):

What really stood out for me was the announcement the other day of the partnership between Stellantis and Archer Aviation, which is a company that is developing electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. And the Stellantis is going to be not only investing in them, but helping them build the plant and manufacture the aircraft. So we're seeing this sort of combination of where the automotive industry is going and where the aviation industry is going. And perhaps not surprisingly, Carlos Tavares, the CEO of Stellantis was on the board of Airbus. So he knows what's happening in that space, but it also sort of reinforces the significance of what Archer Aviation and their competitors in this area of, what's sometimes called flying taxis, are developing right now. So I think that, to me, was a very significant announcement.

Mike Floyd (06:21):

I think the thing that I saw was Snapdragon, which is a Qualcomm's software, they developed a whole car for this event. And to showcase all the things that they're doing in advanced autonomy, things around the interfaces, the things that people use and touch. And they've got so much technology that they just decided to do their own car around everything they do. So I thought that was really interesting.

Jim Fellinger (06:53):

Fantastic. Well, walking around West Hall yesterday where the majority of mobility exhibitors are here at CES. I couldn't help but notice a lot of non-traditional auto names, actually big tech companies, companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, others. What do you make of these companies making their entry into the automotive market? How does that change or disrupt the landscape?

Mike Floyd (07:17):

Well, I think for me, it's about the software defined vehicle. So what's happening now is these major players, the Qualcomms, the Mobilize, the Googles of the world are getting involved in the software part of how cars are being developed in the future. So we just had our software defined vehicle integrated rewards last night and we're really on the bleeding edge of what's going on with this because it's really changing everything. I've been with Mercedes for the last two days and they're building out their own operating system, but they're also using technology partners like Blackberry and all kinds of other partners like that because they know they can't do it alone. But they know that they also have to learn from them and they want to do more and more of it themselves, but they also know that they can't. So that's why these big tech partners are getting involved.

Dan Zukowski (08:11):

And I agree with you, Mike. And traditionally the automotive industry, if we go back in history, has been a very conservative industry, very focused on design, build, create everything internally or with very limited number of suppliers. And what we've seen in these past several years, and it's clearly accelerating this need to bring in all these different partners. They can't do it all alone anymore. So that's been really, to watch this shift in this major industry.

Alexandra Darvall (08:43):

Yeah, I mean, I'll just add to that quickly, but cars for so long, were just all about the engine. How can we make it more powerful? How can we make it faster? How can we make it sound better? And now cars are tech. And we see that because we're at a consumer electronic show. I mean that wouldn't have happened a decade ago. It's all cars now. And so in order to make cars more tech focused, we need the tech brands to come in. We need the experts in those fields. So it just makes sense to me that we have the Sony-Honda collab now, for example.

(09:16):

And I feel like cars are now not about getting from A to B, it's an extension of your own living room. So it's now another, you might have a four-bedroom house, but now actually you have a five-bedroom house because the fifth bedroom is your car. And you can do anything in there, you can sleep in there, you can invite friends over drinks while you get somewhere. You can sing karaoke and have a karaoke room. I just feel like it's more based on the experience now, the tech experience rather than just the drive, getting from A to B.

Niklaus Hirschi (09:55):

Yeah. And I think for example, the Apple car is predicted to come out in maybe 2025 or so. But I think the exciting bit is when you have non automotive brands try to create something or then find a collaboration with someone who understands automotive as well. There's just more innovation around design-wise and how they're going to look and what they're capable of. But if everyone were to think what is the Apple car going to look like? And what you can think is, it sounds very exciting and very intuitive probably to use and minimalistic. And so having these tech companies merge with automotive itself, which is I think accelerates the innovation and how cool it's going to be to use and look.

Jim Fellinger (10:40):

Dan, I have a question for you. We hear the term smart cities thrown around a lot here at CES. Can you share with our audience, really what is a smart city? And more importantly, what does mobility look like in the smart city of the future?

Dan Zukowski (10:54):

That's a really good question. And I think the definition is sort of changing almost as we speak. The original definition, I think, that goes back 10 or more years, is basically a city that will use sensors and other sorts of IOT technology to help perhaps move traffic faster or something as simple as transit signal priority to let buses go through on a green light, that sort of thing. But it's clearly evolving beyond that. And I think you're seeing that in some of the exhibitors here.

(11:28):

What I think it means for the residents is I think a couple of things. How does it help me get around? How does it help me feel safer in my city, get around more easily? Et cetera. But there's also the privacy concern. When there's sensors all around you and cameras picking you up as you walk along and so forth, citizens are having some concerns about that. But there's no stopping where the technology is going to go. So those things will have to move forward in coordination.

Jim Fellinger (12:07):

And Mike, a question for you. Alex mentioned before, BMW's changing cars, and that brought up a thought to me. There are just so many more services available in cars now. Where do you see that trend heading?

Mike Floyd (12:19):

Oh, no question. It's going to be the driver, not the driver, well, the driver and the passengers will be able to download all manner of content, videos, you name it. They'll be able to update their vehicles on the fly. So they wanted something different in their user interface, that will be able to be downloaded to their car. And you can have that customized, all those kind of things now are on the horizon and they're on the near horizon. This stuff is actually starting to happen. Like I said, I was with Mercedes and they're partnering up with this one company where they're delivering all manner of videos, video services, and the passenger can now watch that stuff with the driver driving. And that's happening now. So these kinds of things are only going to get more and more, I guess, customized to your preferences I guess you could say.

Alexandra Darvall (13:24):

I just want to add to something else really cool with the battery technology. Now, if you need a quick runabout car, you have to buy something small so you can park in the city. And then for the weekends or road trips, you need something bigger. So we'll all end up buying more than one car for our needs. But for example, with Renault, we saw that you can have a more compact car and then the car actually extends, and it will drive onto this kind of automatic pad. And that pad will then insert more battery packs into the car because it will extend as you get onto the pad. And then obviously within the car, you've got more room then to be able to fit more batteries.

(14:06):

So suddenly you go from a compact car that you can run about town every day to something a little bit more useful for road trips, and you get a longer range with the extra battery packs, you get more space in the car because the car is actually physically extended. So I think that's quite exciting as well in that you can possibly just buy one car in future and it can have multiple uses. It can be compact, it can be big. I think that's pretty cool.

Jim Fellinger (14:33):

Now, I actually want to ask a follow-up to you both because I know you both have a passion for supercars. So can we talk a little bit about how you see technology transforming supercars in the next five years? I know there have been amazing advancements in the last decade alone. Let's talk about where we're headed.

Alexandra Darvall (14:33):

Yeah. Go ahead.

Niklaus Hirschi (14:51):

Yeah, I mean, Bugatti just formed this partnership with REMACK essentially, which is one of the first supercar electric manufacturers. And I think they sort of announced that Bugatti is not going to produce any more petrol cars, which is crazy to hear about and to see that trend going. But these hypercars on the electric side, it is so much faster than what a petrol car can produce.

Alexandra Darvall (15:22):

Yeah, and the other thing is the sound. So for so long supercars, hypercars, we've been like, "Oh, what does it sound like?" You turn the engine on, it's like, "Wow, it roars at you." And obviously that's going to go away to some extent when we turn to electric supercars. But what is exciting is speaking to some people, for example, Mitja is head of design at Lamborghini. And he had an amazing idea where instead of having this loud roaring engine, you would actually have instead subwoofers. And when you go past people on the street, the base would be so low that you actually wouldn't hear it, you would feel it instead. It's like a visceral experience, like when you get in, you feel the vibrations of the car without actually hearing anything. So I just think it's so exciting for the supercar world to go right. We've always known cars to sound like this, what's the future of how a supercar is going to sound?

Mike Floyd (16:19):

Yeah, totally. No, I'm sorry. The Porsche Taycan is a perfect example... All borderline supercar, and it's all electric. It's incredibly fun to drive. And then to your point about sound, you're absolutely right. I think we're going to be able to do things like the Dodge, the new Dodge concept, these Challengers, you hear them all over the place going bananas. So Dodge has got to figure out a way to make that kind of sound in those people that are always been buying those Challengers and Chargers to really engage with that. Because that's absolutely part of the experience. So that's going to be a big challenge when you start to get to these cars. But right now, the EV, very high performance EVs are really fun to drive.

Niklaus Hirschi (17:12):

And just to that sound as well like BMW, and it's crazy as partnering with Hans Zimmer, Oscar-winning composer for the Lion King, for example, and Batman, other the great movies, and have him compose sound effects for their future EV range and cars. I mean, that's insane.

Alexandra Darvall (17:34):

Yeah, like you get in and you turn the engine on, it sounds like a pride of lions or something.

Jim Fellinger (17:38):

It's incredible.

Alexandra Darvall (17:39):

There's no end to it.

Jim Fellinger (17:40):

So it begs the question then, is the fire-breathing V12 dead?

Alexandra Darvall (17:45):

I don't know. There will always be some V12s, but there will be a much smaller market for it. And partly because manufacturers need to adhere to very strict emissions standards now. So they can't just go around and produce a thousand V12s, they might produce 10 V12s a year. Who knows? But those things will become very collectible cars. I don't think they will go away altogether.

Mike Floyd (18:14):

No, I don't think so either. But it'd probably be boutique automakers, low volume type stuff. I think you're right, the Lamborghinis of the world, they've all but said there will be no more V12s. So it's unfortunate. But I think to your point, there will be some form of that. And obviously there's going to be a collector car market forever.

Dan Zukowski (18:37):

As a car guy from way back, I'd still like to be able to drive a manual transmission.

Jim Fellinger (18:41):

I love it. Well, as many of you know, the indie autonomous challenge is taking place here at CES. For those who don't know, this is a fully autonomous vehicle race. It's pretty incredible to watch. But there's been a big question mark around when autonomous vehicles are really going to reach full adoption. There are many who have said that there's just been an enormous amount of hype here that the technology is years and years out. I'd like to start with Mike and work our way down. How far do you think we really are from near full adoption of that sort of technology?

Mike Floyd (19:15):

We're quite a ways away. And now obviously Tesla, basically, they're pushing the envelope with their technology, their full self-driving technology. But even they right now say, "You must have..." It's in the fine print, "You can control the vehicle at all times." And I was with Mercedes and they have a level three system, which is a system where you can keep your eyes off the road and do things, but you can't go to sleep, you can't do anything. And they're testing it now in Nevada. But basically, I mean that's just like a dipping a toe in the water. They're doing it commercially in Germany. They're rolling it out soon. But it's a very, very small incremental step. I think we're probably 10 to 15 years away before you get to a point where you could read a book or fall asleep in a car. And that's probably optimistic honestly. But we'll see.

Dan Zukowski (20:19):

So I've been doing some stories along those lines and have talked to the folks at Qualcomm, at Ambarella here today and speaking to engineers... In fact, I'll be speaking to someone from the IEEE later today. One of the things that, or perhaps a key thing that could put us over the line in terms of real safety, real possibility for level three, level four, level five autonomy is what's called the system on a chip. And these things are literally less than the size of your palm. And they will take in all of the data, they take in all the data from the cameras, the lidar, the radar, process the perception, that's called the perception, do the fusion, which is putting it all together, understanding what the big picture is of what's happening around the car, and then being able to do the response. Now what the engineers are telling me is this will be possible in the next 5 years. So that's what I'm hearing.

Niklaus Hirschi (21:27):

Yeah, I'll just go with the 5 years. It sounds like a good idea.

Alexandra Darvall (21:27):

I'll say the same like what he said.

Jim Fellinger (21:29):

He sounds like he knows what he's talking about.

Dan Zukowski (21:30):

Not me, it's the engineers.

Niklaus Hirschi (21:37):

Yeah, I think one part is legislation and the whole liability issue of what if something happens and it was caused by a robot, rather by a human? And how you go about that? Although I think it'll be much safer than humans driving. Like they had here, here's a stand where they have a breathalyzer on the steering wheel itself and it can actually test it and see whether you have been alcohol or not. And the stuff around that, you might become compulsory that before you can even get in a vehicle, has to be breathalyzed, the vehicle does it itself.

(22:12):

But we've been on the autonomous side with Mercedes. They have a whole fake Autobahn in Germany and a whole test track with where they placed all the cars and the car would just drive by itself through and parking in and out into parking spaces or actually finding the park. The car can do it all by itself. So I think the technology is super advanced to be able to do it, but I think legislation and people trusting it is I think another issue that might delay it longer.

Alexandra Darvall (22:41):

And also, I just want to drive.

Jim Fellinger (22:44):

Right. We're probably talking to a number of gear heads out there. What is driving without the experience? It's a great point.

Alexandra Darvall (22:50):

I mean, even lane assist really annoys me. I have to turn it off every time I get in. It's like, "Let me drive." So I think there's going to be, I'd rather it be fully autonomous and I get in the car knowing, "Okay, this is my nap time or this is my time to watch a movie or something." Or I get in the car to drive to experience that. I don't like the in-between. I don't know, there's just something about me not liking that kind of flow assist, and it's like, "No, no, I've been able to do this for 20 years. I can still stay in the lane."

Jim Fellinger (23:23):

Well, let's talk about... Actually, Dan, do you have another point?

Dan Zukowski (23:25):

No, I just want to add on to that. It is the in-between that is the problem. And one of the things that we're seeing here is the rise of these driver management systems or driver supervision systems where they're going to be monitoring you if your eyes go off the road, if you are texting, if you're doing something that's not focused on the actual act of driving. And that's going to be that in-between situation where you're still at level two, level three and you are responsible. But too many of us, we will let ourselves be distracted and so on. So that's another aspect that's coming in as well.

Jim Fellinger (24:01):

That's great. And I'm seeing that we are coming close to the end of our time here, so I want to end on a pretty fun note. So there have been a lot of technology trends that have emerged at CES this year. There are certainly mobility trends that are top of mind this year. I'm asking you all each to make a bold prediction. What's one thing that we're going to be talking about at CES 2024 that we're not talking about enough at CES 2023?

(24:26):

Mike, we can start with you and work our way down, or if one of you is ready, please jump in.

Mike Floyd (24:31):

I think it's the software defined vehicle. It's how software is going to interact with the car. It's how they're building the cars. We're already seeing it a little bit, but I think next year and in the following years, it's going to be even bigger.

Dan Zukowski (24:48):

I don't know if it's going to be next year or certainly by the year after, but in the next year or two, we're going to be taking rides in a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft right from out there.

Jim Fellinger (24:58):

Sounds easier than the traffic line out there.

Alexandra Darvall (25:02):

Yeah, I mean, I don't know if there'll be one certain thing. I think there are a lot of different ideas being put out there, and I think obviously some of them have more practical uses and others are just something cool to look at and you're like, "Oh man, that's the future. That could come in 50 years or so." But simple things like lighting features instead of cars always having chrome accents. The cool thing was for a car to have chrome grill or chrome accents on the side, it's like, "Wow, that's fancy." Now it's lights.

(25:32):

The way that you accent a car is now with the badge lighting up or the wheel archers having light feature or something like that. I think light lighting itself is going to be a huge feature of cars in the future. And also things like Shy Tech, really reducing everything you see in the vehicle, so you don't have any buttons everywhere until you need them. So as soon as you place your hand somewhere, then the buttons light up in light form and then you can press whatever you need to be able to activate the door or the windows, whatever else. But until you need it, it's gone. It's not there, you don't see it. So I think that's kind of two features that I'm looking forward to seeing more of.

Niklaus Hirschi (26:16):

What I haven't really seen, not that I've seen everything here is hydrogen technology. So we visited Hyperion, which is a company in California that uses NASA technology and created a full hydrogen car, a hypercar. And the sole emission it has is water, just water coming at the back end. And I think that is probably even more sustainable and is the real future rather than actually EV. So that is something I haven't really seen here at all at the moment, and I think that's probably a space to look out for as well.

Alexandra Darvall (26:58):

Yeah, we were driving the Hyperion in LA and it's a fully functioning car. It's just at the moment, the parts are too heavy. I don't know everything about it at this point, but what I took away from it is the technology just isn't there yet to be able to have a fully functioning car go hundreds of kilometers on hydrogen. It can go a short distance, but at this point they haven't reached that point. But it means that you're not sourcing materials for batteries, you're not trying to recycle batteries. The emissions, you're not sourcing electricity for the batteries to run on and it's purely just water vapor out the back. It's quite incredible. And I think, yeah, you're right. I think we're going to see more of that.

Mike Floyd (27:40):

Yeah, Toyota already has a vehicle called the Mirai that's out. And so there are hydrogen vehicles out there, but you're absolutely right. I think the Japanese are incredibly high on hydrogen. I think you're absolutely right. There are some issues around creating the hydrogen in making it fully available and fully usable. We had Mirai in for a year and it was difficult to fuel it up anywhere outside of the Los Angeles area. So there are some significant challenges around it, but it is a great propulsion hopefully in the future. Yeah.

Jim Fellinger (28:19):

Well, I think that's a fantastic note for us to end on. How about a round of applause for our fantastic panel members?

Alexandra Darvall (28:25):

Thanks everyone.

Niklaus Hirschi (28:26):

Thank you.

Jim Fellinger (28:27):

Thank you all.

James Kotecki (28:30):

Well, that's our show. Thanks for listening. You've just downloaded the latest insights from CES 2023 into your brain, and of course there's always more tech to talk about, so please subscribe to this podcast and don't miss a moment. You can get even more CES at ces.tech. That's ces.T-E-C-H. Our show is produced by Nicole Vidovich, with Mason Manuel and Kristen Miller. Edited by Third Spoon with our lead audio engineer, Andrew Lynn. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech on CES Tech Talk.
 

 
 

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