Driver optional: Carmakers show off autonomous, electric vehicles at CES

Gregory Bull / AP

General Motors CEO Mary Barra stands next to the Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car at CES International Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in Las Vegas. The 200-mile range electric car was introduced Wednesday.

With more than 115 automotive tech companies and nine automakers debuting new products, the latest in automotive technology was on full display this week at CES 2016.

A “show within a show,” car-related exhibits covered over 200,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 25 percent increase in showroom floor space over last year’s 160,000 square feet, said the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES.

“Clearly, the auto industry has become an integral part of CES,” said Gary Shapiro, CTA’s president and CEO. “You could say we’ve shifted the center of gravity from Detroit to Las Vegas this week.”

Faraday Future Concept Vehicle

Faraday Future's concept vehicle FFZERO1 is unveiled at an event before the start of the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in a parking lot across the street from the Luxor. Launch slideshow »

Auto tech on display included the latest in electric, energy-efficient and driverless cars.

On Wednesday, Chevrolet unveiled the Bolt, the automaker’s first all-electric vehicle. Not to be confused with Chevy’s hybrid Volt, the Bolt is General Motors’ first all-electric long-range car, with a battery range of up to 200 miles per charge.

The Bolt’s debut came just two days after the Detroit-based automaker announced a $500 million investment in ride-sharing company Lyft, which will also see the two companies teaming up on autonomous, self-driving technology and cars designed specifically for ride-sharing.

“The convergence of connectivity, vehicle electrification and evolving customer needs demand new solutions,” General Motors CEO Mary Barra said during a keynote speech Wednesday. “Embracing new technology and societal needs is the core of the Chevrolet brand.”

Just hours before Chevy’s announcement, Volkswagen Chairman Herbert Diess unveiled the BUDD-e, a fully electric and autonomous vehicle inspired by the German company’s 1960s microbus.

With a range of 200 miles per charge, The BUDD-e opens with a wave of the hand, and functions like an all-in-one smartphone. The electric van is “what VW electric cars will look like in the future,” Diess said, and could be a reality by 2020.

Ford CEO Mike Fields made no mention of a rumored partnership with Google in a Tuesday keynote speech, but instead introduced a partnership with Amazon’s “Alexa” for drivers to connect with devices in their homes.

On the showroom floor, Ford modeled a fully autonomous hybrid Fusion model, with distance-sensing LiDAR sensors that scan an area of more 650 feet around the car. Like Volkswagen, Ford hopes to release the self-driving models within four years.

“We’re developing the algorithms for a fully functioning, fully autonomous vehicle,” said Wayne Williams, a Ford research engineer from Dearborn, Mich. “The lasers help the car drive around by itself.”

Toyota also made its North American debut of the FCVPlus, a hydrogen and electric-powered hybrid concept, while Mercedes-Benz and Audi displayed their fully electric car models, which debuted on showroom floors in 2015. None of the three auto giants expect their concept vehicles to become commercially available before 2030.

Other automotive makers in attendance included BMW, Delphi and Kia.

One company notably absent at CES was Tesla, the current American leader in fully electric cars already on the road.

On Monday, the brand’s latest competitor, California-based startup Faraday Future, debuted its first electric concept vehicle, the fully electric FFZERO1, set for full-scale development in 2018. The Chinese-backed company, which last month received $335 million in Nevada government incentives to build a 3 million-square-foot factory in North Las Vegas, hopes to break ground on its factory in the coming weeks, said Nick Sampson, Faraday’s senior vice president of research and development.