Car tech you can't miss at CES 2015

Whether its self-driving, integrated data in the dashboard or next-generation driver displays, CES 2015 will showcase the latest in automotive tech, plus what we can expect to see in the next decade.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
3 min read
Ford Sync 3.0
Tim Stevens/CNET

Sync 3.0
Ford demonstrates Sync 3.0 in a mock Mustang cockpit. Tim Stevens/CNET

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect a name change for Visteon's SmartCore product.

Amid a show floor filled with big TVs, small phones and sundry other electronics, cars will take their place at CES 2015 as the hottest tech platform. Automakers from Audi to Mazda will be at the show in early January and, of the five keynote addresses announced, two will be from automotive leaders.

Ford CEO Mark Fields will be on hand to give a keynote address, where I expect he will show off the next generation of the company's cabin tech, Sync 3.0. Ford set a standard with Sync in 2007, making seamless Bluetooth phone and personal audio electronics connected to the car. Considering this legacy, I am eager to see the next step in Ford's infotainment.

Dieter Zetsche, Mercedes-Benz's President, promises to unveil a new concept car during his keynote address. I expect that concept car will be the same REC 14 research vehicle that Mercedes-Benz will make part of its Detroit auto show display the following week. The term "research vehicle" may evoke images of a rough, unfinished body with odd bolt-on pieces, but Mercedes-Benz's previous F125 research vehicle was a thing of beauty.

Dr. Dieter Zetsche with the F125 research vehicle in 2011.
Dr. Dieter Zetsche with the F125 research vehicle in 2011. Mercedes-Benz

During the last CES, Audi gave me a ride in an early example of an autonomous car, which actually had to be rebooted mid-drive. But the company has been making huge improvements in this technology each year, keeping it far ahead of the pack, and should have something more refined at this CES. The company will show its impressive current offerings on the show floor, which include Google Earth integrated in a car's navigation system and fully connected destination search. In addition, I expect to see a production version of the Android tablet designed for use with its cars, which was previewed at CES 2014.

Chrysler will be demonstrating its excellent and underrated UConnect infotainment system during the show days. This system not only offers a very intuitive user interface on a large touchscreen in Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep automobiles, but the latest versions come with a built-in data connection supporting a variety of apps, including Yelp. A Chrysler spokesperson tells me the company will have announcements around UConnect, which I expect will detail new apps incorporated into the system.

At the recent Los Angeles auto show, Hyundai demonstrated implementations of both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, becoming the first automaker to show off both smartphone-integration solutions. I expect Hyundai to offer those demonstrations at its floor display. Mazda will also be on hand, likely showing off its tasty new Miata roadster and CX-3 compact SUV , both of which feature new generation cabin tech.

A number of automotive equipment makers have briefed me on their offerings for CES 2015. Visteon may not be a name known outside of the automotive industry, but the company makes many of the information displays found in today's cars. At the next CES, Visteon will be showing its SmartCore product, which combines instrument clusters, head-up displays and infotainment systems on a single platform, allowing for better interoperability and shared CPU resources.

Self-driving technology is one of the most interesting topics today, and automotive supplier Delphi announced it is working with start-up Ottomatika, the latter a developer of software that can make crucial driving decisions. Delphi will be talking about its latest self-driving efforts during CES 2015. Similarly, automotive supplier Valeo will be present, talking about when its self-parking technology might make its way into production.

Instead of new model launches, which automakers reserve for dedicated auto shows, CES 2015 will feature cutting-edge automotive technology. We will see the latest production offerings and, better yet, get a look at what technologies will be available in the next decade.

CNET's coverage of CES 2015 begins on January 4.