The best cars and driving tech from CES 2021

And why the love affair with flying vehicles at CES still makes no sense to me.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, Smart home, Digital health Credentials
  • 5G Technician, ETA International
Brian Cooley
3 min read

The scuttlebutt going into CES2021 was that it would be pretty tepid as a car show, but I think it delivered, considering it was all done on a virtual showfloor.

Caterpillar showed one of its 285-ton mining dump trucks working autonomously, which gives me a lot to lay awake and worry about. Nothing the size of a duplex should make up its own mind about anything. But industrial vehicles will go autonomous long before anything intended for your driveway.

Autonomous Caterpillar mining truck

No. Nothing this big should be able to make its own decisions.


John Deere showed how it'll use VR to transport you into the cab without having to make your way to a farm, which made me wonder how long it will be before mainstream carmakers will use the same tech for their direct sales efforts. We've already seen a glimpse of this with Nissan @ Home, which Nissan launched shortly before CES 2021.

The car business may embrace factory-installed dashcams now that Gentex, the dominant supplier of factory rear view mirrors, rolled out one with a slick dashcam functionality built in. Front, rear and interior views can be recorded continuously onto its built-in DVR, without some tacky device and its wires dangling from a suction cup on your windshield. 

Gentex Mirror-Integrated DVR Main Art

This new technology integrated a dashcam right into the rear-view mirror housing.


But General Motors owned CES 2021 on the automotive front: On the eve of the show it rolled out a new logo that looks like an electric plug and proclaimed that it's time to get "everybody in" on the electric car revolution. During CES, GM proceeded to preview an array of electric cars to back that up:

Chevy Bolt EUV teaser

The teaser shots for the new Bolt EUV show that it will have SuperCruise semi-autonomy, previously a premium car option.  

GM design boss Michael Simcoe at CES 2021

Lighten up a shadowy GM sneak peek from CES 2021 and a phalanx of bold new GM electric cars emerges.

General Motors
  • A new GM venture called Bright Drop will make electric pallets for warehouses and electric delivery trucks for FedEx starting later this year. 

GM's new BrightDrop electric delivery trucks will quietly start making FedEx deliveries soon.

General Motors

Then came the kicker: GM's first flying Cadillac, a four-rotor electric passenger drone (or, more accurately, eVTOL) that I have to assume would be autonomous. The details were sparse, but all that matters is that GM's even playing with the idea. I still don't get personal flying vehicles, but Fiat Chrysler and Hyundai also appear to think I'm an idiot because they're working on their own versions. 

Cadillac eVTOL

Cadillac concept eVTOL

General Motors

My nominee for undersung car tech story of CES 2021 was Panasonic's work on holographic AR head up displays with laser holography specialists Envisics of the UK. 

Envisics AR HUD

The look down era of car dahsboard is drawing to an end. 


This is far from the only AR HUD tech I've seen at CES, and Mercedes will beat everyone to the punch, but I get excited about Panasonic's focus on this tech as it has deep, mainstream cabin tech relationships with most carmakers. I also think the windshield is the most exciting place for AR to crop up in the near to medium future.