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Bill Roth headshot

How Consumer Electronics Are Radically Redesigning Our Cars

By Bill Roth

Stop thinking of cars as a motor and wheels. Instead, think of them in terms of computer chips, graphic cards and batteries. It is consumer electronics, rather than mechanical systems like combustion engines, that will define our vehicles in the 21st century.

That future, where cars are more like smartphones than machines, was on full display at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show and North American International Auto Show this month.

The players driving the consumer electronics car revolution

These companies and stakeholders -- and their technologies -- stole the show at CES and NAIAS:

  • Car manufacturers. Auto manufacturers are all introducing cars designed around consumer electronics. For example, GM’s all-electric Chevy Bolt won NAIAS Car of the Year. However, all is not good among car manufacturers. Their culture is being challenged by the speed and scale of innovation in consumer electronics. Auto manufacturers are now opening offices in Silicon Valley in an attempt to keep pace with this technology center's ability to commercialize distributive technologies.

  • Google, Tesla and Uber. Silicon Valley companies like Google, Tesla and Uber are driving the autonomous vehicle revolution. Autonomous cars are based on prediction software that converts big data into machine learning. Connect learning machines to an Internet of Things (IoT) mesh, and autonomous operations is the result. This tech future will shift consumer interest away from the driving experience and toward convenience, point-to-point speed, digital connectivity and lower cost.

  • Intel, Nvidia and Amazon. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the emerging disruptive technology that will reshape our homes, offices, factories, vehicles and lives. Companies like Intel and Nvidia are AI chip leaders. AI chips power AI devices like Amazon’s Alexa, the current product sales leader in linking humans to IoT. Auto manufacturers like Ford are experimenting with how to connect their cars to Alexa.

  • Ride-sharing giants. Ride-sharing services, available at the touch of a smartphone button, are undermining vehicle ownership’s economics and convenience. The commercial future is an an algorithm that will enable on-demand delivery of an autonomous vehicle. Clicking an app will deliver an autonomous vehicle. It can be whatever you need: a car, truck or van. It will take you where you want to go and then park itself awaiting your return or move on to another human if you no longer need it. And all of this will be at a price that is lower than ownership.

  • Urban millennials. Urban millennials will create the demand for vehicles designed as consumer electronics. These millennials want mobility as a service because it will cost less than owning, maintaining and parking a car. They will want it to be electric because this aligns with their values for less urban air pollution. They will love the convenience and increased productivity gained from riding in an autonomous vehicle. And they will want to buy it via their smartphone or wearable rather than a dealership.

Megacities will drive demand for cars designed around consumer electronics

Megacities will be the early-adopter location for vehicles designed as consumer electronics.

Ford’s Future Trends research projects 41 megacities with populations of at least 10 million citizens by 2030. Combined, these cities will have a larger population than the United States. Their annual gross domestic production will rival our entire country’s economy.

But megacity economic productivity is constrained by congestion and air pollution. The consumer electronics being introduced into vehicles can solve these challenges:

  1. Moving people faster. Eliminating traffic congestion will be the financial driver for consumer, and city government, adoption of cars designed around consumer electronics. The tech world is working on autonomous driving vehicles that work together as a swarm connected through a smart city mesh -- think: devices connected to the same Wi-Fi signal. Applying that tech path to our cities and cars will dramatically reduce traffic congestion.

  2. Lowering costs. Electric autonomous cars will cost less to operate and maintain within a megacity compared to today’s dumb combustion engine vehicles. Electricity costs less than a gasoline gallon equivalent. Autonomous vehicles eliminate driver costs. Smart cars will have fewer (zero?) traffic accidents, reducing city government costs.

  3. Enhancing human health. People wearing face masks due to fossil fuel emissions is the visual image for too many mega cities. Electric autonomous cars will have zero tailpipe emissions.

  4. Increasing economic productivity. Autonomous cars will enable passenger productivity. The daily commute will become another location for digital connectivity among work associates. Now imagine this productivity game-changer: an autonomous Amazon truck that uses onboard drones to deliver packages!

Jeff Powers #GeekPower

The Consumer Electronics Show is now a showcase of companies introducing vehicles designed around consumer electronics.

Jeff Power is highly followed on social media as #geekout and at Geekazine.com. Here is his take from this year’s CES on how our cars are becoming consumer electronic devices:


Bill Roth headshot

Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!

Read more stories by Bill Roth