Automotive > Infotainment & Telematics Blog

CES 2016 & VW's Pretzel Logic

by Roger Lanctot | 12月 15, 2015

Observers may be forgiven for viewing Volkswagen’s keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in January as an act of contortion worthy of Cirque du Soleil. Chairman of the board of management, Dr. Herbert Diess, is expected to launch an all-electric concept car at the event while “focusing his remarks on electric mobility driving the automotive market,” in the words of the Consumer Technology Association, organizers of the event.

Dr. Diess, a BMW alum, will replace his predecessor, Martin Winterkorn, who resigned in the wake of the diesel emissions cheating scandal. Diess will give the opening keynote at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, January 5, before the official opening of the CES show – the largest industry-focused trade show in the world. (In fact, CTA has grown to such an extent that CTA, which recently changed its name from CEA, has seen fit to cap attendance – though I haven’t yet run into anyone who says they haven’t been able to register.)

Jaded observers might suspect that VW has suddenly found electric vehicle religion as penance for its diesel debacle, but this interpretation would be falsch. VW announced its ambitions to become an electric vehicle world leader at the Frankfurt auto show last fall. But the diesel scandal will be the elephant in the room.

Says CTA president Gary Shapiro: “CES is a celebration of diverse ideas. Our stage is open to those who bring innovation and can showcase how technology is changing the world, at times open even to those who bring controversy. When we agreed to a Volkswagen keynote earlier this year we, along with the world, did not know much about emissions testing, but after talking with Dr. Diess I felt the CES audience would be interested in his vision and curious about his plans for a new type of sustainable car. Now, VW has an opportunity at CES to show the world its designs for the future and how the company views electric mobility and sustainability.”

What is most interesting is the degree to which CTA has come to overshadow the North American International Auto Show in Detroit which takes place immediately following CTA, the second week in January. Just last week NAIAS organizers acknowledged that Jaguar, Land Rover, Mini and Tesla Motors will not be displaying in Detroit. CTA, meanwhile, has attracted a growing cadre of automotive exhibitors.

As the software-defined car, manifest in the Tesla Model S, has emerged so has CTA emerged as the logical platform for technology thought and industry leadership. CTA boasts more than 115 automotive tech companies and nine automakers with product debuts. In its wake, NAIAS has become an afterthought, a footnote. Even Automotive News has begun covering CES.

(It is worth noting that a consumer cannot even buy a Tesla in Michigan.  Meanwhile, Nevada has set up a licensing program for autonomous vehicle testing on public roads.  Daimler and Hyundai are trying to get authorizations in time for CES.)

A show within a show, automotive exhibits will cover more than 200,000 net square feet of exhibit space, a 25% increase over the 2015 CES. CES 2015 was itself car crazy. Also keynoted by VW, the show was topped by Audi autonomously delivering a car from California to the Las Vegas venue and then providing drives around the city.

As for VW in 2016, keynote attendees should not mistake the company’s EV announcements for a kneejerk reaction to the diesel scandal. The company previously announced plans for as many as 20 new electric vehicle models as part of an effort to transform the company into an electric propulsion leader by 2020, if not sooner.

But the software-related effort to evade emissions testers put VW on the wrong side of the software-defined car story.  A shift to an emphasis on electric powertrains - something BMW executives have suggested could be nearly universal within a decade - will completely alter vehicle hardware and software architecture for VW.

While EVs and HEVs represent a great sustainability story, depending on the source of their electricity, it won’t be lost on anyone that in a post-Tesla world electric propulsion also delivers a performance boost.  Actually finding a way to match Toyota's success selling hybrids and Tesla's success selling EVs will be the real heavy lift for VW - arriving late to the game as it is.

It may sound, on that upcoming evening in January, like VW is pretzeling itself to please the regulators, but the reality is that the company has already announced its intention to lead in electric drive. The only remaining question is one of credibility and commitment to a really new way of doing business and building cars – regarding which only time will tell.

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