CES is, by definition, future-forward. It’s the world’s largest gathering of gadget geeks, and carmakers have used the show for well over a decade to peacock about their own tech wares and creativity, partnerships, and design acumen.
And if CES 2024 is defined by any single tech component, it’s not the motors and batteries that are moving the latest and greatest EV concepts, it’s the sheer computational “horsepower” allowing these vehicles to become four-wheeled gaming computers, AI assistants, and mixed reality machines.
And more than at any CES we can recall, carmakers really wanted to name-drop their alliance with tech companies bigger (at least in terms of stock value) than themselves. So you had the likes of Mercedes, the Sony-Honda collab known as SHM, BMW, and Volkswagen all boasting about various tie-ins with powerhouse brands including Meta, Amazon, and even Opean AI’s ChatGPT.
There was physical substance, too, luckily, including possibly far more affordable EVs — and, of course, a flying car because they probably aren’t allowed to call it CES without one. Here’s the rundown of the latest and greatest EV innovations shown off at the tech show.
1. Honda Space-Hub and Saloon Concepts
Honda was busy at CES, both debuting these two concepts and a tech tour-de-force in its partnership with Sony called the Afeela. The Space-Hub and Saloon EV concepts are part of an entirely new platform for 2026, called Zero Series, with in-house battery and construction techniques. While Honda didn’t provide specific details, the company says its new battery platform will be more power-dense than the GM Ultium batteries inside of the Prologue electric SUV that’s coming out later this year.
As for tech, Honda says Zero Series EVs will feature more advanced driver assistance that could better take over some driving duties in urban and highway environments. Honda also says it’s yielding some understanding of posture and comfort from its robotics division, likely meaning a more active seat that responds to g-forces, for instance, and possibly suspension that’s more active in response to physical road conditions.
2. Vinfast Wild Pickup Concept and eSUV VF3
We’ve been eying cheap Chinese electric cars with envy for a little while now. But with tariffs blocking those imports, Vietnam’s Vinfast may turn out to be the “hack” for Americans who want in on the EV transformation but aren’t willing (or able) to spend $60,000 for their piece of the dream. The company dropped two intriguing options that may come here. There’s the Wild Pickup Concept, a mid-size EV truck about the size of a Ford Ranger with a clever “mid-gate” that opens up between the five-foot bed and the rear of the cabin wall, expanding hauling capacity to eight feet. This is also a smallish and lower truck than the towering norm, and with a four-seat cabin and a relatively compact size, may make for the ideal urban pickup that sadly left the U.S. market ages ago.
Then there’s the tiny VF3, a square-bodied micro-ute that’s two feet shorter than a Mini Cooper two-door. The second-row seats do fold flat and yield about 20 square feet of cargo room, which is larger than most sedan trunks. Vinfast is billing the VF3 as a city runabout with about 125 miles of EV range, and if the price is cheap enough, you could imagine it as the ideal second car that’s all about errand running. The hurdle, still, is finding convenient charging for apartment dwellers, etc., but there’s a fine argument to be made that you don’t need massive charging capacity or super high-speed powering if you’re not juicing a big battery.
3. Sony Afeela
We’ve been wondering for a while why exactly Sony and Honda (jointly called SHM) are co-developing an EV, but this is now becoming a lot less cloudy. The Afeela, which debuted last year at CES, is now maturing in pretty awesome ways. This time, Sony hyped in-car gaming (on rear screens) and used Fortnite as an illustration — the Afeela, which won’t be on U.S. roads until 2026, will also soon debut on Gran Turismo 7. So, ahem, virtual car debuts ahead of the actual car? Yes. And then just think: Come 2026, rear-seat passengers could game in such a ride while you drive it! Speaking of the real and virtual merging, SHM is adding AR in unique ways, too, saying that the Afeela will gamify some of what you’d see in the heads-up and in-dash environment, with not just navigational graphics imposed, but playful ones, too. SHM says it’ll create live 3D mapping overlaid on the actual visual environment, and all this will be powered by Unreal Engine 5.3, with over-the-air updates.
SHM also wants to use the Afeela as a development platform, allowing creators to make interactive features and apps as they would for phones, and also to allow owners to customize screensaver and even sounds both inside and outside the vehicle. For instance, on the screen — located at the nose of the car — you could put cheeky slogans or display a snap of your latest tattoo. Further, SHM is partnering with Microsoft on a virtual assistant (sorry, “conversational personal agent”) for the Afeela. All this feels mighty ambitious, but at the same time, long past due. Carmakers haven’t really gone as deep as possible on in-vehicle tech, and who better than Sony to pull this off?
4. BMW Integrated Gaming Controllers
You may have read on Inverse how much tech BMW is packing into its EVs, but the German carmaker is now upping the ante. BMW’s new OS 9 includes a wireless Bluetooth controller that lets you and other seatmates game while parked and recharging. BMW also says its new streaming capabilities (via a partnership with Tivo) will surface content timed with how long you’ll be charging. Presumably, you could still binge TikTok, or you could let your German sled surface videos that will end just a minute before your car has re-juiced.
More interesting, especially for drivers, BMW is touting its partnership with Meta around the use of XR (mixed reality) glasses, where the carmaker says donning such headgear could offer more enhanced information and safety features than a heads-up display alone. But if you’ve used AR in a non-moving space and gotten a little queasy, we have our concerns about what this will be like IRL at 60 mph.
5. Volkswagen and ChatGPT
Volkswagen is bringing artificial intelligence to its cars using ChatGPT voice integration. It’s dubbed the assistant “Ida” and the idea is that you say “Hey, Ida,” to then converse with the system, which debuts on cars in the second half of 2024. Ida was announced for the new ID.7 sedan, which goes on sale later this year in the U.S., and for the ID.4, which is already on sale here. However, the fine print says the AI is being “considered” for the U.S. and will be in cars sold elsewhere. Also, no word yet on the ID. Buzz van or the next GTI or other cars sold here.
The advantage, maybe, is that current voice control in cars is pretty limited. You can issue a very direct prompt, like “set the temperature to 70 degrees” but you can’t ask (or receive) much detail via voice, like “who are the other artists on this album I’m streaming?” To date, a lot of assisting consists of asking for something, repeating yourself, and trying to rephrase a question to have the input understood. It’s possible much of this is better tackled by AI like ChatGPT, especially since so much of what the tech has been trained for is to recognize the way we speak. The asterisk: Volkswagen was quick to point out that “ChatGPT does not gain any access to vehicle data; questions and answers are deleted immediately to ensure the highest possible level of data protection.” No promises that it won’t make up answers, however.
6. Mercedes-Benz, Amazon Music, Audible, and Dolby Atmos
Mercedes was one of the first brands to stretch a curved TFT entirely across the dash (dubbed a “Hyperscreen”). Now it’s promising to populate that display, and others, with content via a partnership with Amazon, Audible, and other services. First, the audio quality will be “multi-dimensional” according to info from the Stuttgart-based carmaker, because the content will be deliverable via Dolby Atmos — provided your Benz has one of the brand’s optional Burmester 4D or 3D Surround Sound Systems.
That Dolby piece is part of the Amazon collaboration, where all the audio streamed to the car will be mixed according to the Atmos protocol. This includes both podcasts and music, with over-the-air updates coming later in 2024, though customers need both Audible and Amazon Music accounts. Ah, but the display part? You’ll also be able to game in your Mercedes, thanks to a partnership with a company called Antstream Arcade, which includes vintage titles from Nintendo, Sega, and Atari, and you can watch film and TV via Sony Pictures Entertainment. If you live in California or Nevada, where Mercedes-Benz now enables Level 3 autonomous driving on certain highways, you can even game or watch movies while behind the wheel.
7. Kia Customizable Vans
You’d be smart to question why Mercedes is bringing an electric Sprinter to the U.S. later this spring, why you can now buy the same Rivian van that Amazon’s using, and why Walmart is investing in vans from a brand called Canoo. Oh, also, later this year Volkswagen’s reborn Microbus hits U.S. shores as the ID. Buzz. What’s with all these electric vans? Table that: Know that now KIA has announced a modular van setup called the Platform Beyond Vehicle (PBV), capable of transformation into no less than five versions. The first to be sold will be the Kia PV5, but the theory behind the modularity is that the current owner — or the next one after a sale — could transform their PBV from a cargo van into a passenger one, or into a taxi cab or people hauler, such as an airport shuttle. In theory, too, PBVs could be updated for fully autonomous capability, such as a Waymo taxi.
There’s even the capability to make this transformation on the fly, and you can imagine using your PBV as a work van during the week and then magic-ing it into a “toy hauler” ski/camp/bike rig during days off. Yes, you’d own two shells and KIA says the transfer would be feasible by the owner using “electromagnetic and mechanical coupling technology.” Yes, this makes more sense than owning two cars, and KIA also suggests a sort of “tiny home” functionality for the largest of the PBVs, where the steering wheel folds away and converts into a desk. As for why Kia and all these other brands are making electric vans, note how our consumer culture has shifted from shopping to online delivery. And likewise, we have a housing affordability crisis not just here but worldwide. If cars can be converted into extra rooms, that’s a partial solution.
8. Hyundai Supernal “Flying Car”
Coming in 2028, the flying car! Maybe. And not really. This is an airplane with vertical takeoff and landing capability, so it’s more like a merger of a plane and helicopter, not a flying car. FYI, Hyundai showed something like this at CES back in 2020, so it’s not new to the carmaker. This latest iteration, the S-A2 eVTOL four-seater, features vertical takeoff and landing, seating for four, and supposedly autonomous flying in the future.
It’s being built by Supernal, a division of Hyundai, and it features some pretty great tech — in theory. First, it’s an EV, which is kind of amazing, and would have a range of about 40 miles. Most helicopter flights are actually super short — just hops from a city center to an airport, which, as the autonomous plane flies, is only about 10 miles. It’s also supposed to be half as loud as the typical fossil-fuel copter, and its landing gear fully integrates into the body, which is one way to cut noise in flight (and increase range). Honda makes regional jets, FYI, so why can’t Hyundai make electric helicopters?
INVERSE brings you everything from the fun and futuristic world of consumer technology at CES 2024. For all the latest technology coverage from the show, go to the INVERSE CES 2024 hub.