The Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2016) provided us with a proper glimpse at the immediate future of the automotive industry.

Ahead of the North American International Auto Show, CES 2016 may as well have been called the car electrics show – with some of the world’s largest manufacturers vying for the eyes of consumers before the strictly automotive spectacle in Detroit. Fifteen years ago even as we stepped into the 21st century with all the futuristic hype generated around the millennial changeover gesture control, autonomous driving and remote-controlled parking would have been the makings of a 007 flick, or dismissed as the very best science fiction. Whichever side of the fence you may have been on, these are now the realities of the automotive industry.

1. General Motors’ first real attempt at the electric vehicle, the EV1, was ill-fated. Nonetheless, it went down as a pioneer. It’s paved the way for what could well be the first electric vehicle that’s truly for the masses in the form of the Chevrolet Bolt. The biggest bugbear about EVs has been the limited range available from full charge, and the Bolt is a major step in the right direction with a claimed 320 km possible with a fully charged battery pack. The Bolt also uses data gathered from the weather, terrain, time of day and driving history to help the driver manage the range. Bolt drivers are always connected through a 10,2-inch MyLink infotainment system with 4G LTE capability and Wi-Fi hotspot, and fellow Bolt owners can vie for bragging rights via an online leaderboard that promotes and rewards economical driving.

2. Another win in terms of affordable futuristic motoring was Kia’s introduction of the Drive Wise sub brand that will slowly introduce intelligent safety technology in the Korean firm’s vehicles. It has the further goal of offering partially autonomous driver assistance systems by 2020, and fully autonomous vehicles by 2030. Remote parking via key fob or smartwatch is technology that debuted on more luxurious vehicle just last year, but Kia could very well be one of the more affordable brands offering this sort of tech in the next few years. Its Highway Autonomous Driving allows the vehicle to stay in its lane or overtake other road users by interpreting the surroundings through radar and camera detection systems.

3. Audi was in the mix, too, introducing a VR headset that will soon make it to dealerships. It will offer prospective customers the chance to configure and experience any model in the company’s portfolio without the risk of damage to a real vehicle.

4. Mercedes-Benz is always at the forefront of innovation, but now the very best tech features aren’t just limited to the S-Class. The new E-Class boasts an infotainment system with niceties such as a touchpad and voice-control, but is also the first vehicle in the world to feature touch control on a multifunction steering wheel. Two touch-sensitive panels recognise vertical and horizontal swiping motions to scroll through menus on the instrument cluster and main infotainment display thus allowing for safer motoring as the driver has no need to lift a hand off the wheel.

5. Not to be beaten, BMW’s i-Vision Future Interaction Concept, essentially an i8 Spyder, also wowed crowds at CES. It comes complete with a 21-inch ultra-wide central display and AirTouch, an advanced version of the gesture control on the 7 Series in that it allows the driver to move through menus and “push” buttons in air. The Bavarian brand also showcased a new helmet with built-in head-up display for motorcyclists.

If the kind of technology on show at CES 2016 is anything to go by, the next five years are going to get very techy inside your car. The future is nigh…


This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.