Ford, Audi and GM Electrify CES

Auto manufacturers have begun an invasion of the Consumer Electronics Show that will only grow in magnitude and significance in future years.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally showed off the Ford Focus EV during his keynote presentation. The sedan will be differentiated from the competing Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt by having double the charge rate (6.6 kilowatts). Ford’s Nancy Gioia said a fully depleted battery can be recharged in 3-4 hours. Ford will begin manufacturing the vehicle at the end of this year, and will roll it out to 19 target cities during 2012. The all-electric vehicle will have an estimated driving range of 80-100 miles.

Ford will offer a home charging unit for $499 through Best Buy, which makes it the least expensive charger on the market. Ford has customized the EV charger that was co-developed by Leviton and Coulomb Technologies to accept power at up to 32 amps.

Audi unveiled that it would commence production by the end of 2012 of two plug-in vehicles that were previously concept cars, the A1 e-tron plug-in hybrid and the A8 e-tron battery electric vehicle. Audi’s Chief Executive Engineer Ricky Hudi said the performance-oriented A8 e-tron would have a top speed of 250 kilometers power. Both vehicles will use lithium ion batteries manufactured by Sanyo. Audi is incorporating Tegra II graphics chips from NVidia to drive the displays for the vehicles, and the company would use Google Earth maps to enhance the mapping used in its navigation system.

NVidia also is licensing the chips to Tesla Motors for the large 17 inch display that will span from the top of the steering wheel to the floor in its upcoming Model S, as well as to BMW for some of its gas-powered cars. EVs will provide significant opportunity for graphics chip designers who can offer products that minimize the power draw on the batteries while maximizing display quality and responsiveness.

Also at CES General Motors is showing for the first time in the U.S. the EN-V (pronounced envy), a two-passenger EV that can be programmed to drive and park itself. The EN-V has sensors to detect pedestrians and other vehicles to avoid collisions. The vehicle also has vehicle-to-vehicle communications so that vehicles can follow each other while traveling at safe distances. GM claims that up to 6 EN-Vs could be parked in a single parking spot. GM demonstrated all of the autonomous features, including remotely retrieving the vehicle from a parking spot.

Autonomous vehicle technology is still many years from being a commercial reality, but the technology shows promise as urban vehicles where lower speeds are acceptable and parking is at a premium. Enhancements in GPS technology, wireless sensing, and vehicle communications are all needed before the technology will be ready for the road.

Article by John Gartner, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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