Kia is entering the commercial vehicle market with its Platform Beyond Vehicle, or PBV, a series of modular electric vehicles that users can reconfigure with different loading and hauling capabilities.  -  Photo: Jack Roberts

Kia is entering the commercial vehicle market with its Platform Beyond Vehicle, or PBV, a series of modular electric vehicles that users can reconfigure with different loading and hauling capabilities.

Photo: Jack Roberts

CES and the automotive industry have been converging to the point that the world’s largest tech trade show should also be considered part of the auto show calendar. 

However, CES 2024, which convened Jan. 9-12 in Las Vegas, was notable for its automaker absences — including Ford, General Motors, Stellantis, and Toyota. Nonetheless, some 300 mobility-related exhibitors (out of 4,000) displayed concept cars, infotainment systems, electric vehicles, and autonomous tech. 

Here’s a rundown of just some of the automotive-related tech that was served up to attendees at CES 2024. We interpret their potential significance and viability for fleets, followed by thoughts from the show floor from fleet industry attendees.

Vehicle/ChatGPT Integration

Volkswagen unveiled its first models integrated with ChatGPT into its IDA voice assistant. In the future, customers will have access to ChatGPT in all VW models equipped with the brand’s IDA voice assistant, which will allow researched content to be read out to them while driving. Mercedes also revealed its new MBUX Virtual Assistant, which combines generative AI and advanced 3D graphics to create a more intuitive customer experience.  

Significance: Generative AI in vehicles will make first-gen Google Assistant seem like Jurassic technology. The time is coming — faster than imagined — in which vehicle functions, complex navigation (take me to the closest unoccupied fast-charging station), and new modes of entertainment are no longer accessed through fingers, but through conversations with your car’s computer. 

Question: This truly feels like a game-changer. Yet data privacy and security issues abound while regulations struggle to keep up. How will the first major hack of an AI system disrupt progress? 

Kia Enters Commercial Vehicle Market 

Kia — new to the commercial market — announced a new electric van concept that is meant for production beginning in South Korea in 2025. Kia is planning three vans on its new “Platform Beyond Vehicles” (PBV). The modular design allows users to transform the vehicle from a standard small van to a pickup configuration or a taxi version. The midsized PV5 is first up, with the smaller PV1 and larger PV7 models to follow. 

Significance: If these models make it to the U.S., they’d be a welcome addition to a van market that is lacking in small van models and will experience tight inventory for years. Kia says the PBV can function as a taxi during the day, a delivery van at night, and a personal recreational vehicle on weekends. 

Question: How exactly will fleets repurpose a van’s function on the fly? This would seem to require a rethinking of business models. We’re eager to see how.  

From the Automotive Fleet archives: What did the future of automotive look like in 1962?

Face Authentication for Vehicle Entry

Continental presented a face authentication system based on biometric user recognition that uses special camera systems mounted externally on the vehicle’s B-pillar and invisibly behind the driver display console. The system allows the vehicle to unlock, open, and start as soon as it detects a registered user. 

Significance: This takes us one step closer to never needing a physical key — yet unlike today’s virtual key systems, it doesn’t need a smartphone app. The system also enhances driver safety and security, though face authentication is not meant for fleets with constantly changing drivers (like delivery or rental) as each driver must be authenticated to use. Honda, Sony, Ford, Genesis, and Mullen Automotive have or are working on the rollout of the technology. 

Question: As more technology equals higher repair costs, is facial recognition truly needed? The market will decide. 

Smart Tires & Autonomy

Goodyear and Gatik, a provider of autonomous middle-mile B2B logistics, announced the integration of tire intelligence technology into an autonomous driving system. The tech is called Goodyear SightLine and it's embedded into Goodyear Endurance RSA tires. Gatik’s fleet of autonomous Class 3–7 box trucks will integrate with the system. 

Significance: As the only part of a vehicle that touches the ground, tires can help fleets understand road conditions and driver behaviors. Accessing this data virtually is even more crucial in an autonomous environment, which looks to remove all manual processes. 

Question: Smart tire technology isn’t cheap and to reap the full benefits depends on fleets digging into, and then acting on the data. How quickly can fleets reallocate the necessary internal resources to realize an ROI? 

Conditionally Automated Driving Usurps Autonomy

Mercedes announced that the EQS and S-Class models will be available with Drive Pilot (this news isn’t new to CES). The SAE Level 3 “conditionally automated driving system” allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road at speeds under 40 mph and in heavy traffic situations. The system is rolling out in approved L3 states California and Nevada in early 2024. 

Significance: The autonomous technology market has pivoted from the L4 self-driving Valhalla to incremental updates on ADAS systems in the L2+ to L3 range. These systems allow drivers to disengage from driving in the right circumstances.  

Questions: Do laws restricting cell phones apply during use? Will fleet managers be comfortable with their drivers playing built-in games such as Tetris and Sudoku? Will they go for the $2,500 yearly subscription fee? We’ll follow the tech, but on each question, the answer right now is an obvious no.  

The Kia PBV’s modular system allows users to change seat configurations and add other accessories such as a desk, lights, and shelving to create a moving office.  -  Photo: Jack Roberts

The Kia PBV’s modular system allows users to change seat configurations and add other accessories such as a desk, lights, and shelving to create a moving office.

Photo: Jack Roberts

Expanding Hydrogen Ecosystems

Hyundai laid out its vision of a “hydrogen energy ecosystem” that includes vehicles, production, and storage systems. Bosch announced it will launch its first hydrogen combustion engine this year. PACCAR also showcased two of its hydrogen-powered trucks under its Kenworth and Peterbilt brands. 

Significance: To function as EVs, larger commercial vehicles require immense battery packs. Hydrogen has been building momentum in the trucking vertical for years, as hydrogen’s electrolysis process is better suited for larger on- and off-road applications. 

Question: The U.S. government is putting $8 billion into hydrogen hubs and manufacturing. But is there an opening for hydrogen on the light-duty side? Is the automotive industry ready to spend the money to build out hydrogen infrastructure at the same time as EV infrastructure?

Fleet Community Weighs In

In his LinkedIn video, Rob Minton of Geotab makes the point that General Motors' world debut of the Chevrolet Bolt in 2016 signified the beginning of a shift in automotive away from traditional car shows in favor of general tech showcases such as CES. 

In his video, Minton also walks around Vinfast’s electric pickup concept, Mercedes’ CLA Class concept, Kia’s PBV models, and a display showing how Honda’s new battery technology sits higher in its future EV models. 

“CES 2024 was a remarkable showcase of innovation and progress in the automotive industry, particularly highlighting the transformative impact of AI and autonomous driving technologies,” writes Jake Obert of REE Auto. 

“I was intrigued to observe a strong emphasis on safety enhancements related to these advancements,” he writes. “It's clear that the industry is not only embracing AI for efficiency but also prioritizing the critical aspect of safety in autonomous vehicles.”

“The event also showcased a significant trend in electrification, with both new and traditional OEMs unveiling new EV products and integrating electric drivetrains into their existing offerings. This broad adoption across various industry players — including companies like CAT and John Deere as well as emerging companies — signals a substantial shift towards electric drivetrains. It underscores a collective commitment to sustainable and innovative mobility solutions, promising an exciting future for the automotive sector.”

"At CES this year advancements in software-defined vehicles were ever present,” writes Kathryn Mullins of Ridecell, referencing demos she saw for Qualcomm's Snapdragon Digital Chassis and the Sonatus Vehicle Platform.

“Continued investment in digital vehicle platforms by existing Tier 1 automotive suppliers and emerging auto tech companies shows real potential to usher in a new era of functionality for fleet-based businesses. As they become more prolific, these platforms will offer new levels of configuration and integration, connecting innovation in generative AI, V2X, and autonomous driving to exciting use cases in the fleet industry."

The Big Question

Technologies take a circuitous path to viable integration into our lives. Which of these new products and systems will find their way into widespread adoption, and when? Hard to say. 

CES is often more about who has enough money to make their pitch to 130,000 attendees than whether the tech will ultimately prevail. Independent of successful product rollouts at CES such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, we’re still waiting for Honda’s off-road autonomous vehicle, Bosch’s autonomous parking app, and mass-market hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars

Though fleets are great testing grounds for new tech, they’ll always take the realistic approach for mainstream use. At least for right now, we can at least marvel at what’s possible. 

On the Ground at CES 2024: 3 Automotive Takeaways

About the author
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, and Fleet Forward, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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