CES 2023 and car tech: Separating the hype from reality

 Turkey's first indigenous car TOGG is displayed at Consumers Electronics Show, CES 2022
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Las Vegas is famous for broadcasting the sound of happy gamblers through casino speakers, suggesting that there’s a party of fun-loving folks just around the corner. But there’s something different in the air at CES, the enormous consumer technology event that takes place every January in Las Vegas: hype. And the challenge anyone faces in separating the hope from the hard truth – is that a lot of this stuff isn’t real. 

Nowhere is this more evident than the autonomous automobile market, which threw itself at Las Vegas like a down-on-his-luck crapshooter, blowing on the dice in the hopes that something, anything, will hit. Self-driving cars are always just a year or two away, and have been for the last decade. The reality? They may never get here. 

Yet CES will remain one of the biggest car shows in America! And CES 2023, which kicks off January 5 in Sin City, will showcase tantalizing technology and eye candy aplenty. Last year’s show featured a color-changing SUV, an autonomous car that's also a camper (and your living room), and an EV with over 1,000km of range. Amazing! Here’s what you can expect from the show … and a few hints about the hot air and hype that’s sure to follow.

CES 2023: Self-driving cars

Back in 2018, I catalogued the self-driving auto market, listing every company investing in self-driving cars. “From Mazda to Maserati, every major car manufacturer is up to its lug nuts in R&D aimed at self-driving cars,” I noted at the time. 

But the market seems to have burst faster than a punctured tire. GM’s Cruise self-driving car company lost $1.4 billion this year alone, CNN recently reported. Car and tech companies alike came together behind the other big name in the game, Argo AI; when it was shuttered in early November, Lyft took a $137 million hit to the bottom line. Ford took a drubbing too, writing off $2.7B and noting in its earnings report that it would shift focus from the Level 4 autonomous systems being developed by Argo AI to driver-assistance technologies such as adaptive cruise control and lane-switching assistance.

So don’t expect gushing tributes at CES to the power of autonomous cars. There’s more to self-driving cars than simply going from point A to point B, however, and new tech will be shown. Witness the BMW 7 Series, which uses tech from Here for predictive routing, and can learn your individual driving patterns to propose more personalized journeys. Clever, right? It also uses Here’s Real-Time Traffic, which delivers detailed information on traffic with “lane-level” precision that includes road geometry, traffic signs, and more. BMW chairman Oliver Zipse will give a keynote at CES, and given that the company won CES 2022 with its color-shifting e-ink cars, expect some crazy cool tech.

Meanwhile, about a million companies make lidar sensors for cars, which use pulsed laser beams to measure distance and map the surrounding environment. Sure, they’re a key component in self-driving cars, but the sheer volume of these companies simply can’t and won’t go on: Ouster and Velodyne just announced a merger, others are closing or throwing their hands up, and you can expect this trend to continue. As TechCrunch rightly noted recently, many of these companies went public at valuations based on over-optimistic projected revenue, and ain’t nobody buying these things right now. Hence don't expect to see as many lidar announcements at CES as in years past. 

Still, companies will be there, likely MobilEye, an offshoot of Intel that went public in October and was valued at about $17B (which was somehow below Intel’s expectations). And CES is synonymous with innovation, so look for new technology announcements: new versions of lidar for near and far range, high definition sensors, solid state tech, and more.

CES 2023: Electric vehicles (EVs)

Sony Vision-S prototype

Sony's Vision-S prototype, which purportedly will feature voice assistance, gesture control, video game entertainment, 5G connectivity and "360-degree sensor awareness."   (Image credit: Sony)

There’s futuristic stuff – like the “software-defined vehicles” that Qualcomm and Renault’s Ampere electric car division just announced plans to whip up, of course. In fact, expect SDVs to be the big buzzword of the show: MotorTrend will unveil an "SDV Innovator" award at CES 2023, and the term promises to be omnipresent. 

Then there are the mundane realities of today. At CES 2023, expect more mundane than magnificent. Amazon will likely showcase its Rivian electric delivery vans, for example. There are more than 1,000 of them already making deliveries in Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, and other cities, and we expect to hear more from Amazon at the show. 

Speaking of magnificent, will we see the electric supercars that have reared their heads and roared their engines in years past? Faraday Future for example? Two years ago, I drove the supercar around Las Vegas, marveling at an engine that goes 0 to 60 in 2.3 seconds. It was remarkable. I suspect there will be fewer such feats this year.

But mundane can be marvelous too, and expect to see the brand new Volvo EX90, the company’s flagship electric vehicle. The EX90 sports lidar sensors from Luminar, bidirectional charging (to let you run your home from the car in case of a blackout), and more … oh heck, The Verge has a great look at it if you’re curious. And expect a huge turnout from GM, which always puts on a great show at CES. Will we see the Cadillac Celstiq, a luxury EV that will be hand-built using more 3D-printed components than any other car to date? Will we see GM’s electric moon rover? Stayed tuned!

Sony was the unlikely entry into smart cars at recent CES events, showing off a prototype of what it called Vision-S last year, “an initiative aimed at contributing to the evolution of mobility.” In June, the Japanese giant announced a partnership with Honda, and in October it explained the plan: to sell premium EVs by 2026, with an emphasis on in-car entertainment, of course. Sony has used CES to sell this new product, so expect to see a more evolved concept at the 2023 show.

CES 2023: Concept cars and other wacky stuff

Finally, you have to expect to see at least some crazy stuff from the world of transportation in Vegas. For example, Siemens will likely show off a simulation of Space Perspective's stratospheric balloon rides. The giant tech company’s simulation platform is used by Space Perspective to model out thrust-to-weight ratios for its balloons and other sciencey stuff. Hopefully, we’ll get more of a sense of what riding in a space balloon will feel like.

Volcopter made its debut at CES 2018 with a flying VTOL taxi, and the company just announced $182 million in fresh financing. Where will it spend these bucks? And Wisk has a new version of its VTOL autonomous air taxi, too. CES wouldn’t be CES without something zany like this. 

So join TechRadar as we explore the ins and outs of CES 2023! We’ll be there in person all week, bringing you a first-hand look at the latest new gadgets … and despite all the hot air and ballooning hype, we’ll keep our feet firmly on the ground.

Jeremy Kaplan
Content Director, TechRadar

After 25 years covering the technology industry, Jeremy Kaplan is a familiar face in the media world. As Content Director for TechRadar, he oversees product development and quality. He was formerly Editor in Chief of Digital Trends, where he transformed a niche publisher into one of the fastest growing properties in digital media. Before that, he spent half a decade at one of the largest news agencies in the world, and cut his teeth in magazine business, long before the birth of the iPhone. In 2019, he was named to the FOLIO: 100, which honors publishing professionals making an industry-wide impact.