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Sony unveils a new EV model at CES, the latest tech giant looking to crack the red-hot market

January 5, 2022, 12:23 PM UTC

Best known for its PlayStation 5 gaming console and film studio that coproduced the blockbuster Spider-Man movies, Sony is now getting serious about electric vehicles. 

Years of mismanagement saw the Japanese inventor of the Walkman surrender leadership of the consumer electronics industry to companies like Samsung and Apple. But Sony appears dead set on getting the jump on Apple in EVs as the $3 trillion U.S. tech giant’s worst kept secret—code-named Titan—remains stuck in neutral.  

Attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in person on Tuesday, chairman and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida saved his biggest surprise at the Las Vegas event for last.

Bringing out a new zero-emission electric vehicle prototype, its second in three years, he said the group would establish a new company in the spring of this year called Sony Mobility Inc. to explore a commercial launch of its Vision-S concept cars.

“With our imaging and sensing, cloud, 5G and entertainment technologies combined with our content mastery, we believe Sony is well positioned as a creative entertainment company to redefine mobility,” he told reporters. 

Complete with 40 sensors to monitor the vehicle’s surroundings, a 360-degree interior audio system, video gaming, and Sony’s streaming app Bravia Core enabled by next-generation mobile technology, the Vision-S 02 that took the stage in Las Vegas gives a glimpse of a possible crossover patterned on its first four-door fastback concept.

“There is an opportunity to satisfy both people’s desire to move safely and to be entertained,” explained Yoshida.

Competitive moat

For decades, automakers had been shielded from potential rivals by a competitive moat around the industry called the combustion engine, a technology complex to master, requiring heavy upfront investments in capital and operating in a low-margin environment riddled with structural overcapacity.

Courtesy of Sony

The megatrend toward connected, autonomous, and electric vehicles has sparked a wave of new competitors that sense the changing landscape finally offers an opportunity to breach the industry’s once impenetrable defenses. 

Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup even came to Las Vegas this week to reveal self-driving plans for its new EV brand VinFast, which aims to soon begin shipping its VF e35 and e36 models to the U.S. market.

Sony’s Yoshida said the strong reception for its Vision-S prototype revealed at the CES in 2020 prompted it in May to begin driving tests on public roads in Frankfurt.

“The excitement we received after the announcement of Vision-S really encouraged us to further consider how we can bring creativity and technology to change the experience of moving from one place to another,” Yoshida said. 

As for Apple, the EV future is a bit more murky. Over the past five years, there has been a constant, low-level hum of rumors about the status of Apple’s automotive ambitions, with a major partnership announcement always supposedly just months or weeks away. But so far, no deal has come to light, as reports emerged that Project Titan had been beset by internal strife, management disagreements over strategy, and struggles coping with the long, complex supply chains needed to produce a car.

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