Speed and cars go hand in hand, whether you’re talking acceleration, tight turns in the corners or how high the speedometer will go.
Speed and car companies? Not so much.
Tired of being cast as stodgy behemoths, a dozen of the world’s largest automakers have descended upon the Consumer Electronics Show, turning the annual convention in Las Vegas into practically an auto show of sorts. The car brands say they’re taking cues from pure tech companies on what it takes to go faster: faster to innovate, faster to change, faster to bring new products to market.
Faraday Future, a fresh-out-of-the-gate Los Angeles area automaker, is leading that drive. The company — already being labeled a major Tesla rival in the making — used CES to reveal its hotly anticipated electric concept car, the Batmobile-esque FFZero1. Faraday plans to bring a more approachable production vehicle to consumers in the next couple of years, a short timeline for a company that was formed just 18 months ago.
“We must anticipate the future and act upon it with speed, decisiveness and a willingness to be more like a technology company rather than an automotive company,” Nick Sampson, Faraday’s senior vice president of research and development and product development, said at the company’s unveiling event earlier this week.
Sampson, who previously worked at Tesla Motors, elaborated further during an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
“With consumer electronics, there’s (always) new stuff coming out. It’s bang, bang, bang — it’s new, it’s better — whereas the car industry moves a lot more slowly,” he said at Faraday’s booth in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“They’re like a supertanker — they just take so long to change direction, where we’re looking to be more nimble and fast.”
More established car companies, after decades of resisting major change, are echoing that sentiment, acknowledging that they would benefit from leaving behind the slow-to-change ways of Detroit in favor of the bold thinking and rapid advances characteristic of Silicon Valley. Instead of comparing themselves to one another, they’re looking to Apple, Google, Facebook and startups for inspiration as they push for a future where connected cars double as rolling entertainment hubs and eventually drive themselves.
“Today the pace accelerates even more,” General Motors CEO Mary Barra said Wednesday during her keynote address. “I have no doubt the auto industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50.”
Moments later, she introduced the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, an electric vehicle with a more than 200-mile range that will cost about $30,000 after government incentives. In describing the new vehicle, Barra said it was more than just a car — “it’s an upgradable platform for new technologies.”
Other auto brands drew similar tech comparisons. Volkswagen introduced its electric e-Golf Touch car as a “smartphone on wheels.” Faraday’s head designer, Richard Kim, said the FFZero1 is “an extreme tablet on wheels.”
Changing consumer preferences are forcing the upheaval.
Last year, nearly two-thirds of consumers said they would switch car brands to get a vehicle with all the technological upgrades they wanted, an increase of 9 percentage points from 2014, according to data released at CES by Autotrader. And 77 percent of respondents said they prioritized technology over car color, a bump of 8 percentage points.
Features such as collision avoidance, backup cameras and adaptive cruise control “are now considered to be standard must-haves,” said Rachelle Petusky, a research analyst at Autotrader.