The nerdiness is strong here at TopSpeed. In addition to horsepower specs and drag coefficients, we’ve also been known to geek out over gadgets and digital goods just like any other keyboard-bound tech junky. Truth be told, the overlap between the world of cars and the world of electronics is growing, and the modern automobile is quickly transitioning from simple transportation platform to all-inclusive mobile lifestyle solution. Nowhere is that change more evident than at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), so this year, we’re bringing you the latest and greatest car tech from CES 2016.

Once merely a showcase for humble infotainment software updates, CES is now a major automotive event, with complete concept and production vehicle debuts making the event schedule. While this shift may seem sudden, it makes sense if you take a step back and look at the big picture. New and innovative electronics continue to upend practically every major industry on the planet (and at an ever-quickening pace, too), so if the old dinosaur carmakers want to stay relevant, a presence at CES is starting to look like a virtual necessity.

So, what should you expect? Major themes for 2016 include the connected car and infotainment, alternative fuel vehicles, and fully autonomous vehicles. Read on for the lowdown on each, plus a little background on the event if you happen to be a CES noob.

Updated 01/08/2016: We’ve recapped all the big automotive stories, news, and info from CES 2016, including the concept cars, cool infotainment tech, exciting new partnerships, and more!

Continue reading to learn more about the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show.

What Is CES?

2016 Consumer Electronics Show – A Car Lover's Guide
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The first Consumer Electronics Show took place in New York City in June of 1967. Nearly a half-century later, CES has grown to be the premiere electronics and technology trade show, attracting upwards of 170,000 professional geeks from around the world.

This annual event is currently held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, offering 2.3 million square feet of space for the 3,600+ exhibitors expected to make an appearance. Alongside the drones, virtual reality headsets, and robotic butlers is a sizable automotive segment, which will occupy 200,000 square feet this year, an increase of 25 percent compared to 2015.

Previous CES product debuts include the videocassette recorder (VCR) in 1970, the compact disc (CD) player in 1981, high-definition TV in 1998, and the Microsoft Xbox in 2001.

Now, you can add cars to the list of gadgets, and for any volume automaker that disagrees, the writing is on the wall. Audi and Mercedes-Benz, for example, both brought fully autonomous vehicles to last year’s CES, and plan on exhibiting again for 2016. Meanwhile, Ford prides itself on being one of the first on the scene, with an attendance record stretching back nearly a decade. Over 100 automotive tech companies will also join the party this year, as will six other major manufacturers, including BMW, FCA, GM, Hyundai, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

The Connected Car And Infotainment

BMW Gesture Control

BMW Teases Its Concept Car For CES 2016
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The modern automotive infotainment system is hugely capable, tying together a wide variety of vehicular and connected features into one central hub. However, with additional functionality comes increasing complexity for the end user, and control systems have to keep pace. Panels of hard knobs and switches are out – there simply isn’t enough real estate to cover everything. Instead, most automakers are opting for touchscreens and voice recognition, while some are dabbling in something called gesture control.

Essentially, gesture control uses various sensors in the cabin to record hand movements, registering infotainment system commands without the need to physically touch anything. For example, a circular motion of the wrist can adjust the stereo volume up and down, while a sideways swipe can decline an incoming call.

Both of these are commands used by BMW’s Gesture Control system, which is already installed in the new 7 Series. This year, the Bavarians are bringing AirTouch, a next-gen system that adds new types of gesture controls and expanded functionality. It also adds a single button to the steering wheel for quicker, two-handed scrolling and selection making (one hand on the wheel, the other hand gesturing).

BMW’s i Vision Future Interaction concept car will showcase the new tech. Check out the Fully Autonomous Cars section for more.

Toyota Map Generation System

Anyone who has experienced an old GPS navigation system will tell you – having the most up-to-date maps is really, really important. This is doubly so when you start talking about fully autonomous vehicles, which rely on detailed map information to actually, you know, work.

And while fully autonomous vehicles for the masses are still several years away, the infrastructure to make them go is getting built right now. Toyota is taking part with a new map generation system that utilizes production vehicles for automated information gathering and real-time, cloud-based updates.

Here’s how it works – GPS and camera-equipped Toyota vehicles will automatically send location data and road images to the cloud, providing low-cost, scalable map generation wherever Toyotas are driven (which is basically everywhere). While potentially intrusive, this system is a necessary step towards the inevitable fully autonomous future.

Read the full story here.

Ford And Amazon Announce Partnership For Smart Homes And Connected Cars

Mark Fields, CEO at Ford Motor Company, announced on Tuesday that the blue oval was partnering with online retail behemoth Amazon to digitally tie together cars and smart homes.

The proposed system will utilize Amazon’s Echo voice recognition and Alexa digital assistant to enable access to car features from the home and home features from the car. You’ll be able to do things like check your fuel level and start your engine from the kitchen table, as well as open the garage door and turn on the lights from the driver’s seat.

The technology was in the spotlight for CES, and should become available sometime later this year.

The Amazon partnership came as a bit of a surprise to most. Earlier reports indicated a possible joint venture between Ford and Google, something that has yet to be confirmed or denied. Scroll down to the Fully Autonomous Cars section for more.

For more information on Ford’s new partnership with Amazon, click here.

Volvo And Microsoft To Provide Wearable Voice Control

Speaking of digital automotive assistance via voice commands, Volvo and Microsoft are gearing up to offer their own system. Pairing the Volvo On Call app with Microsoft’s Band 2 smart device, users will be able to remotely control the door locks, engine start, and navigation, all by talking at their wrist. The system will become available this spring.

Read the full story here.

FCA Announces Fourth-Gen Uconnect

FCA Announces Fourth-Generation Uconnect Systems At 2016 CES
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The battle for infotainment platform supremacy is raging, and FCA just announced it will throw its weight behind Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, joining the ranks of Honda, Volkswagen, and most recently, Ford. The new integration will also include a slew of updates to the nav system, plus non-software goodies like more responsive touchscreens, more processing power, and improved screen resolution. FCA declined to specify a timetable for the new system rollout.

Read the full story here.

Volkswagen Also Prepping Gesture Control

Volkswagen Golf To Get Gesture Control Feature High Resolution Interior
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VW actually showcased gesture control at CES last year with the Golf R Touch concept. For 2016, the automaker returned with its latest developments, this time around with the e-Golf Touch concept. All told, it looks like the system is almost ready for primetime, with solid functionality and integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. When exactly VW customers will have a crack at it is unclear, but we think it’s safe to expect it sooner rather than later.

Read the full story here.

McLaren 675LT JVCKenwood Concept

2016 McLaren 675LT JVCKENWOOD Concept High Resolution Exterior
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As cars become more and more connected, the human driver is often lost in the shuffle. Automatic everything is great if you’re just trying to get through your commute, but what if you want a futuristic car that’s fun, too? Well, first you’ll need the right ride – a McLaren will do. Next come the upgrades, but how do you improve on something like the 675LT without utterly ruining it? Japanese electronics provider JVC Kenwood has the answer, replacing the instrument cluster and mirrors with a heads-up display and camera system, respectively. It’s a tech bonus without the driver disappointment.

Read the full review here.

BMW i8 Mirrorless Concept

2016 BMW i8 Mirrorless Concept
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Bimmer is also in on the whole “cameras-not-glass” tech trend, as evidenced by this decked-out i8. Like the McLaren, rear-facing cameras replace the mirrors, helping to eliminate blind spots. The system on the i8 also offers predictive warning messages, issuing an alert when it detects a fast-approaching vehicle in the other lane. Not only does the system promise to be safer than traditional mirrors, but the smaller camera profile also improves aerodynamic efficiency.

Read the full review here.

Bentley “Monster By Mulliner” Continental GT

2016 Bentley "Monster by Mulliner" Continental GT High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The Bentley Continental GT V8 S is pretty damn impressive right out of the box. This 521-horsepower bruiser can hit 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds and rocket on to a top speed just below 200 mph, all while coddling its occupants in a cushy, luxury-laden interior. While certainly a fantastic vehicle in stock form, Mulliner and Monster Inc. took it even further with this one-off audio showcase, adding things like new high-end upholstery, 16 speakers, 3,400 watts of power, and even a 24-carat gold wireless headphone.

Read the full review here.

Mercedes-Benz Showcases E-Class Infotainment And Mercedes Me

Mercedes-Benz Highlights The E-Class' New Infotainment System, Touts "Mercedes Me" High Resolution AutoShow
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In advance of a formal debut in Detroit, Mercedes brought the new E-Class to CES to show off its infotainment chops. Included is new touch control mounted into the steering wheel, a large, customizable digital instrument cluster, and wireless smartphone charging. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard as well. Finally, there’s Mercedes Me, which aims to reimagine customer service and the way owners interact with their car and its maker.

Read the full story here.

Audi Showcases A Wealth Of New Tech

Audi Showcases A Wealth Of New Tech At CES High Resolution Exterior
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It appears Audi wasn’t content to show off just one aspect of its tech offerings at CES. The four-ring brand brought a ton of new stuff to Vegas, ranging from new infotainment to virtual reality. Just a few highlights include haptic feedback for interior HMI interfaces, remote service connectivity, and a new dealership experience via VR headsets. Audi even dropped some news on automated features for its all-electric SUV, the E-Tron Quattro Concept.

Read the full story here.

Alternative Fuel Vehicles

Volkswagen BUDD-e

2016 Volkswagen BUDD-e High Resolution Exterior
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Never mind dieselgate and the massive lawsuit recently filed by the DOJ – Volkswagen cares about the future and energy efficiency. No, seriously.

VW chairman Dr. Herbert Diess was tasked with the unenviable job of delivering a keynote at CES Tuesday night amid the ongoing emissions scandal. To make things even more awkward, Diess unveiled a new all-electric concept car, which VW hopes will “further illustrate the synergy between the Internet of Things and the automotive industry.”

Sounds like the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. Dubbed the “BUDD.e”, the new EV draws inspiration from the Bulli microbus revealed at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, which itself is an evolution of the microbuses that gained widespread popularity in the ‘60s. The BUDD.e boasts a 101-kWh battery, a top speed over 90 mph, and a very impressive all-electric range of 373 miles. VW also says the battery can reach an 80-percent charge in just 15 minutes.

Maybe hazy memories of the original “hippie van” will distract all those miffed ecowarriors. Read the full review here.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV High Resolution Exterior
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Volkswagen wasn’t the only automaker sending top brass to CES. General Motors CEO Mary Barra was also on hand, delivering a keynote address on Wednesday about how GM is “redefining personal mobility.” Of course, actions speak louder than words, so to back the claim, Barra also unveiled the production-ready 2017 Bolt EV.

We first saw a concept of the Bolt at the Detroit Auto Show last year, and now, it looks ready to deliver on its promise of all-electric transportation for the masses. Numbers like 200 miles of range per charge and a price tag around $30,000 (after incentives) make this odd little five-door a real boon for the EV movement, but interested buyers will have to wait till production ramps up later this year to get their hands on one.

Read the full review here.

Faraday Future FFZERO1 Concept

2016 Faraday Future FFZERO1 Concept
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If you wanna make a name for yourself, and quick, here’s what you gotta do – find the biggest competitor you can, and pick a fight. That’s what electric carmaker Faraday Future did, bringing what it called a “Tesla-killer” to CES. The car in question is the FFZERO1 concept, an insane-looking EV with a claimed 1,000 horsepower, 3-second 0-to-60 time, and 200+ mph top speed. Whether or not the concept bears any resemblance to an actual production model is irrelevant – Faraday Future gained a ton of buzz. But here’s the thing about that strategy I just outlined – it’s not enough to simply start the fight. If you wanna survive, you gotta win it too.

Read the full review here.

Fully Autonomous Cars

Rinspeed Etos Concept

Start with a BMW i8, tweak the exterior styling, stuff in a fully autonomous brain, revamp the interior, mount a drone in the rear, and voila – you get the Rinspeed Etos Concept.

Hailing from Switzerland, the Etos made its formal global debut at CES 2016, and it couldn’t be a more perfect fit. The spacey, hybrid Bimmer bones provide the right starting point, while all the extras bridge the gap between car and smart gadget.

Would it work in the real world? That’s up for debate, but either way, there are a few pretty cool ideas on the table here.

Read the full review here.

BMW i Vision Future Interaction

2016 BMW i Vision Future Interaction High Resolution Exterior
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The Bavarians brought their own driverless i8 to CES, but unlike the Etos, this one is topless. The doors are gone too, and all that open space presents ample views of one very nicely designed interior. An enormous, 21-inch screen is laid across the dash, providing a good deal of entertainment when cruising around in fully autonomous mode. Alternatively, take the wheel yourself and hit every apex thanks to a heads-up display that outlines corners with the ideal line and braking point, all while next-generation gesture control takes your commands.

Read the full review here.

Kia Introduces DRIVE WISE

Kia Launches New "DRIVE WISE" Sub-Brand
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Kia has announced its intentions to join the autonomous vehicle race with a new sub-brand called Drive Wise. The automaker brought its current crop of driverless tech to CES, showing off capabilities that include autonomous navigation on the highway, in the city, vehicle follow, emergency stop, heavy traffic, and parking. The Soul EV provides the test platform. What’s more, Kia is backing all of it with new connectivity and control systems.

Read the full story here.

Ford And Google Partnership?

Ford Begins Testing Autonomous Vehicles On California Roads
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I’ve said it a million times, but I’ll say it again – the race to full autonomy is on. As features like lane-keep assist, automatic braking, and self-parking trickle into the market, the holy grail of autonomous driving, i.e. a car that requires zero human input to get from A to B, remains just over the horizon. Who will get there first? Will it be a tech company, or a car company?

Maybe both. A recent post from Yahoo Autos reports that Google and Ford are teaming up to develop self-driving cars, saying Ford would integrate Google’s autonomous technology into its production vehicles on a non-exclusive basis. If true, the partnership could be the first of many such collaborations, and would certainly speed up the timetable to full autonomy for the masses.

The report originally suggested Ford would announce the news at CES, but instead, the blue oval surprised everyone by saying it was partnering with Amazon to tie cars to the connected home. Google was never mentioned.

However, that doesn’t mean Ford was shy when it came to sharing its autonomous intentions, at least in general terms. The automaker said it was adding 20 Fusion hybrids to its autonomous test fleet, with development taking place on roads in California, Arizona, and Michigan. Ford also added it was dead set on offering affordable autonomous vehicles for everyone, not just high-end luxury cars.

But the question remains – will Google provide its autonomous technology to a major automaker? It’s certainly a collaboration that has the potential to change the autonomous vehicle landscape, but for now, we’ll have to wait to see if it comes to fruition.

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