CES and cars: Chevy's new EV, Toyota's maps and chips shape the future of driving

CES isn't traditionally a car show, but automakers and their suppliers will show off what future cars can do, with technology powering safety and self-driving, convenience and comfort.

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
The Chevrolet Bolt EV concept in Detroit

Chevrolet showed off its Bolt EV concept in Detroit, and follows it up with the production vehicle launch at CES 2016.


As technology opens up new safety and entertainment capabilities in cars, the Consumer Electronics Show has become the go-to place for automakers and suppliers to show off the future of driving. But unlike the cavalcade of new televisions, cameras and phones announced at CES, the automotive news tends to be about new technologies and new features we will soon see on the road.

During CES 2015, we saw implementations of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from Hyundai, and Audi's Virtual Cockpit interface in its new Q7 SUV, both technologies coming out now. We also saw self-driving car technologies from Nvidia, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, among others. Those won't hit the road for at least a few years.

For CES 2016, we expect a new generation of self-driving and infotainment technologies, and a trend toward making the associated hardware cheaper and easier for automakers to implement.

The cars

Chevrolet steals the spotlight at CES 2016 with the launch of its all new Bolt electric vehicle. We saw a prototype of the Bolt at the 2015 Detroit auto show, and now Chevrolet takes the unconventional step of revealing the full production vehicle at CES. The Bolt promises a big step forward in affordable electric vehicles with range that should come close to 200 miles, doubling that of most current electric vehicles. It also beats Tesla's upcoming Model 3 to the punch.

VW CES Concept

VW teased its microbus concept for CES 2016.


While not a production car, Volkswagen teased a new concept electric vehicle to be revealed at CES. Volkswagen won't reveal details, but the teaser image and rumors around the Internet suggest a new microbus, a model based on the historic Samba bus that, in conjunction with the Beetle, gave VW such a huge cultural impact. The new concept will likely show inspiration from the Bulli concept that Volkswagen showed off at the 2011 Geneva auto show.

Other automakers will show off new technologies and features at the show to appear in future cars. Toyota has already announced a new idea for creating digital maps, a technology it will show off at CES. Instead of sending a fleet of digital mapping cars out on the roads, as Google does, Toyota plans on using GPS and cameras in its future production vehicles, crowdsourcing the most up-to-date information on streets.

The stereos

Clarion FDS

Clarion's FDS does away with a traditional amp, using powered speakers with digital connections to a head unit.


Aftermarket car stereo maker Clarion gave us the news that it will show off a whole new idea at CES 2016, which it calls Full Digital Sound (FDS). Instead of traditional systems that rely on a head unit, central amp and multiple speakers, FDS uses individually-powered speakers. The head unit sends digital signals to each speaker, eliminating signal loss through speaker wires. Clarion will demonstrate the FDS system in a 1991 Acura NSX show car.

Other aftermarket stereo makers, such as Rockford-Fosgate and Pioneer, will be on hand, showing off their latest head units, many of which will likely support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The chips

Computer chips powering everything from navigation to self-driving cars make for the hottest area of new automotive equipment. Silicon and software companies use CES to show automakers, their potential customers, and the public at large the possibilities for future cars.

Silicon makers with growing automotive credentials such as Broadcom, NXP, Nvidia and Qualcomm will be on hand to share their latest, undisclosed innovations. Companies such as these are making the computing platforms that enable mobile data connections, visual displays, GPS, and sensor processing from cameras, radar and LIDAR. We might not see these computer-driving innovations in this year's production cars, but they will be coming in the very near future.

Many of these companies, such as Qualcomm, will bring show cars to CES 2016. Rather than oversized wheels and design flourishes, these cars will demonstrate how new computer chips enable a wealth of new features.