CES 2020: Our pick of the top 10 cars

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This is it, this is the year, they all say, when we start buying electric cars.

In 2020, everyone from Audi to Volkswagen is doing an EV: compacts, coupés and crossovers.

The numbers, however, say we’re getting a bit jaded with the whole driving thing – after a 2% dip in 2018, global car sales have dropped by a further 4% to below 80 million units in 2019, and declining demand in China and the US is to blame. In America, it’s the third year-on-year drop in a row.

This week, car manufacturers turned up in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to drum up some excitement, placing their bets on tech innovation.

Here’s our pick of the bunch.

1. Nissan

After a tough year, while its former CEO Carlos Ghosn dodges the courts and the stocks slide (Bloomberg says Nissan stocks dropped 24% in 2019), the Japanese company stayed optimistic in Las Vegas, with a zero-emissions ice-cream van.

More appropriately, there was also the Nissan Ariya concept, a crossover EV with a pair of electric motors driving all four wheels, which previews the company’s new dedicated electric architecture. Nissan claims over 300 horsepower and over 480km of driving range is afforded by the battery pack laid out in the flat floor.

2. BMW

Instead of an actual car, the Germans brought along an interior and a hashtag, in an attempt to showcase a “new angle of thought”.

BMW’s onboard artificial intelligence tech detects when passengers fix their gaze on something outside the car, and then tells them about it. The idea is to explore the human-to-car relationship and figure out how we will interact with cars in the future, since manufacturers seem hell-bent on removing physical switchgear from our dashboards.

3. Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes tends to go all out for CES.

This year, the Stuttgart-based manufacturer showed up with a concept car inspired by James Cameron’s Avatar – the Chrysler Airflow Vision concept is suitably fanciful, with clear doors, crab-movement capability, and a biometric connection to the driver, allowing for “energy exchange”.

Instead of holding onto a regular steering wheel, you’re meant to merge with the machine by placing your hand onto the centre console to fire up the projection interface with real-time 3D graphics.

4. Chrysler

In the 1930s, Chrysler set about revolutionising car design with the Airflow. Shunning contemporary running boards and bulky fenders, the streamlined Airflow looked like nothing else out there, so no one bought it. Lesson learned. Chrysler stopped production after three disastrous years.

Ninety years on, the US manufacturer revealed the Chrysler Airflow Vision design concept – the show car is supposed to preview Chrysler’s future styling direction and user experience.

5. Hyundai

The Korean giant announced a plan to manufacture aircraft in partnership with Uber in a bid to revolutionise the taxi industry with its new Hyundai S-A1 model previewed in Las Vegas.

Designed to cruise at up to 290km/h at an altitude of 600 metres above ground, Hyundai’s Uber Air Taxi will be all-electric, requiring no more than seven minutes for recharging. With space for four paying passengers, the S-A1 is meant to be a volume design intended to eventually drive down costs per trip, although neither Hyundai nor Uber are clear on a launch date.

Morgan Stanley’s analysts anticipate air taxis to become commonplace by 2040.

6. Jeep

Best known for solid axles and khaki shirts, the Jeep brand announced its new ‘4xe’ badge, denoting plug-in hybrid models due to start arriving in showrooms in 2021.

Jeep says it will offer electrified versions of all its cars, promising greater power and response without compromising too much on off-road capability. Details are scarce, with Jeep holding out for the motor shows in Geneva and Beijing later in the year to reveal more about these plug-in hybrids.

7. Karma

Dane Henrik Fisker is best known for designing the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin DB9, before he put his own name on the 2011 Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid luxury car. Hollywood loved it – Leo immediately bought one.

Just about a decade later, the Danish designer is no longer affiliated with the car, which is now the Chinese-owned, California-based Karma Revero GT, priced from about $140 000.

At CES 2020, Karma Automotive announced a partnership with BlackBerry and Amazon for the Revero GT’s operating system and intelligent machine learning.

8. Land Rover

With a debut at CES 2020, the Land Rover Defender is the first production vehicle to feature two embedded LTE modems enabling over-the-air updates and the inclusion of a new Pivi Pro infotainment system. A new 10-inch touchscreen allows passengers control using “the same processing hardware as the latest smartphones”.

9. Lamborghini

On the one hand, Lamborghini is vehemently preserving the fossil-fuel burning internal combustion engine. On the other hand, the Italians are getting with the times by incorporating Amazon’s Alexa into their supercars from 2020.

Lamborghini claims it’s the first car manufacturer to offer in-car control via Alexa, meaning drivers will be able to adjust air conditioning or seat heating using voice commands.

10. Audi

With driverless tech being on everyone’s minds, Audi presented the new AI:ME concept featuring level 4 autonomy and zero-emissions powertrain.

The Golf-sized concept is built on the same platform as the upcoming Volkswagen ID.3 electric vehicle, and the 122cm-wide dash display certainly sticks out.

Audi, however, is more interested in talking about empathy – the Audi AI:ME uses AI and self-learning to predict passengers’ preferences when it comes to things like seating position, music, satellite navigation, cabin temperature and the fragrance of the interior…

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