Jan 12, 2024 - Technology

Chatty cars, swappable bodies: Future of transportation on display at CES

A rendering of Honda's Saloon concept.

A rendering of Honda's Saloon concept. Courtesy of Honda

Cars that can chitchat with drivers or that come with swappable body types were among the transportation innovations featured at CES, the giant annual consumer tech show wrapping up Friday in Las Vegas.

The big picture: Self-docking boats, delivery drones and flying taxis — all powered by artificial intelligence — are also on display.

Why it matters: In many ways, CES has replaced traditional auto shows as the preferred venue to showcase futuristic vehicle concepts and technologies.

  • And while it's really a trade show for tech suppliers and their customers, all the hoopla around CES also represents the biggest stage for newcomers seeking to make a splash.

This year's overarching theme was how AI is being integrated into just about everything we use — including our cars, where the experience is increasingly being defined by software.

  • Volkswagen, for example, said it's partnering with automotive AI firm Cerence and generative AI startup OpenAI on a digital assistant that can answer questions about the car and even carry on a general conversation using ChatGPT.
  • Mercedes' latest virtual assistant will respond to "I'm hungry" with restaurant recommendations, even cheerily summarizing menus and reviews to help the driver choose. (But if you're really "hangry," the assistant will tone down the happy talk and provide shorter, more direct responses.)

CES wasn't only about in-car software.

  • Several carmakers, including Honda, Kia and VinFast, showed off shiny new concept vehicles pointing to their future plans.

Honda said it would launch a new global line of dedicated electric vehicles, starting with a sedan in the U.S. in 2026.

  • It showed two sleek design concepts — the Saloon and Space-Hub — on which the production vehicles will be based.

Kia unveiled a lineup of futuristic electric vans, trucks, and ride-hailing and last-mile delivery vehicles.

  • They're unique because they share a modular platform, with a fixed driver cab and interchangeable bodies, or "life modules."
  • Each vehicle can be a taxi by day, delivery van by night, and RV on weekends.
  • Kia is partnering with Uber to design a ride-hailing version of the first model, the Kia PV5, with features like personalized rider settings and rear seat entertainment.
Kia's PBV electric van concepts have interchangeable bodies.
Kia's PVB family shows a variety of electric vans for ride-hailing and delivery. Photo courtesy of Kia

VinFast, the ambitious Vietnam-based startup, unveiled an electric pickup concept that could go on sale in the U.S. as early as 2026.

  • The midsize VF Wild concept features a flexible bed that can be extended into the rear seat area through a power-folding midgate.
Image of photographers gathered around the Vinfast Wild pickup truck concept at CES
Vietnam's VinFast Wild pickup truck concept. Photo courtesy of VinFast

Meanwhile, Hyundai's air mobility unit, Supernal, displayed the latest iteration of its electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.

  • The urban air taxis could be shuttling passengers on 25- to 40-mile trips starting in 2028.

Of note: Even Brunswick, the parent of well-known boating brands like Sea Ray, Boston Whaler and Mercury Marine, sought to position itself as a transportation tech company.

  • It showcased new autonomous docking capability, electric marine engines and electric surfboards.

The bottom line: CES is more than just gadgets and toys. It's a showcase for the future of transportation.

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