Nearly every major automotive company is exploring ways to try to catch up with Tesla’s dominance of the luxury electric vehicle category, clearly evident at the annual CES, or Consumer Electronics Show, held every year in Las Vegas, Nevada. I discovered an entire hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center largely devoted to everything auto, or as a growing list of companies like to say, the mobility business.
While tech gadgets and electronic devices are everywhere at CES, the world’s largest electronics trade show has become de facto an auto show – stealing some thunder from the long-standing Detroit Auto Show held the following week. This is largely due to the explosive integration of myriad technologies like cameras, sensors, AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning – plus the connectivity revolution soon to be brought upon by the widespread availability of the 5G network that is touted to increase data flow and information communication by an estimated magnitude of more than 20 times of what’s currently possible with 4G.
So, what’s here and now, and what’s on the not-so-distant horizon? The following are a few of my mobility discoveries, some familiar to many, others still in prototype or displayed as concepts. As an early tech adopter, along with my wife, Lisa Kivirist, we’ve moved to a Toyota Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, as our primary and only car used to get around; our Prius Prime is completely recharged with a 10.8 kW photovoltaic system on site. In reviewing the latest from CES, I’ve focused on the larger transportation tech, since electric assist bicycles and e-scooters have largely become commonplace, especially in many urban areas around the country.
Present: Nissan Leaf e+
The next generation of Nissan’s Leaf, the Leaf e+ (e-plus), unveiled on the tradeshow floor, featuring an expanded EPA-estimated range of 226 miles, thanks to a new powertrain and 62 kWh battery. With a more powerful 160 kW motor comes greater acceleration than found with the current Nissan Leaf model, still the world’s best-selling electric vehicle. Recharging for the new Leaf e+ is faster, too, with a 70-kWh (100 kW peak) Quick Charging system. The Nissan Leaf e+ is expected to be in showrooms by summer.
Present: Harley-Davidson LiveWire Electric Motorcycle
Given the interest in building your own electric motorcycle at some Mother Earth News Fairs over the years, perhaps it’s no surprise that Harley-Davidson is going for the green with their new electric LiveWire motorcycle, available later in 2019. Drawing on their expertise, building on their reputation, and leveraging their technology, including their H-D Connect Service which pairs motorcycle riders with their bikes through LTE-enabled Telematics Control Unit coupled with cloud services and connectivity, Harley’s LiveWire electrifies two-wheel mobility like never before. The Harley-Davidson App will display locations to the nearest charging station.
I took my stationary test drive of the Harley LiveWire -- going from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds -- at CES. The bike is sleek and fast, all electric and, therefore, uncharacteristically quiet for a Harley motorcycle. For perhaps the first time ever, you won’t hear this Harley coming down the road from a half mile away. And it’s perfect for new riders since electric power requires no clutch or gear shifting. The 110-mile estimated range on urban roads is enhanced by regenerative breaking.
Present: Lyft’s Fleet of Self-Driving Vehicles
From autonomous, or self-driving, Lyft vehicles in partnership with Aptiv shuttling passengers around Las Vegas to their visible presence in advertising banners around the city, ride sharing is here to stay, even in taxi-dominated Las Vegas. The Lyft partnership with Aptiv, formerly known as Delphi Automotive, is the largest public commercial self-driving network operating to date, with over 30,000 self-driving rides provided in a BMW 540i, hailed with the Lyft app. Lyft estimates that self-driving vehicles may reduce accidents by as much as 90-percent and reduce the number of vehicles on the road by 80-percent. Since safety remains top priority with Aptiv’s 360-degrees of safety which can see as far as two football fields away, an Aptiv safety driver and operator also sits up front to monitor the vehicle and provide any assistance for those lucky enough to secure a ride in the self-driving car.
Of course, there were plenty of regular ride-sharing services offered at a fraction of the cost of commercial taxis, with private vehicle owners shuttling people around the city, including tech writer Liam Kivirist and myself. We would have jumped at a chance to try out the self-driving vehicle but we’re more than happy to wait until the vehicle itself was all-electric, not the internal combustion engine powered BMW 540i. A bonus: there’s no tip for a self-driving vehicle ride.
Near Future: Byton's Mobile Digital All-electric Lounge on Wheels
The all-electric M-Byte SUV and K-Byte sedan (lead photo), both from Chinese EV start-up Byton, inched closer to reality as a “mobile digital lounge.” Still a concept with yet a vehicle to roll off the assembly line for a customer, Byton’s M-Byte and K-Byte are seemingly designed for those who love touch screens and voice assistants. Byton envisions the all-electric vehicle as “the next generation smart device.”
The luxurious, digital-wonderland of Byton’s K-Byte sedan is matched in terms of performance by a 71 kWh battery with an estimated electric range of up to 325 miles. Despite all the high tech bells and whistles, however, the anticipated MSRP for the K-Byte is $45,000 and expected to be available later in 2019. The vehicles have Level III autonomous functionality, while possessing readiness for Level VI self-driving in 2020.
More Distant Future: Bell Nexus Flying Vehicle
For Bladerunner movie fans, there are more than the Nexus name to conjure up images of aerial transportation systems free of traffic jams with a vehicle that can go just about anywhere and not require airport security or a runway to get off the ground. We learned long ago, the most efficient and quickest route is usually a straight line between two points. Bell, formerly Bell Helicopters, delivered with its full-size, concept version of a hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL), 5-seat taxi, able to lift off and land on a 40-foot square landing pad.
With six, 90-degree tilting rotors, the Bell Nexus pulls power from a Safran turbine for its hybrid-electric propulsion. “As space at the ground level becomes limited, we must solve transportation challenges in the vertical dimension – and that’s where Bell’s on-demand mobility vision takes hold,” says Mitch Snyder, President and CEO of Bell, in a release. To cut down on noise accompanying traditional helicopters, the propellers are placed inside a tilting duct. With improved battery storage capabilities, the vehicle is expected to eventually be all-electric. The earliest you might catch a glimpse of a Bell Nexus actually in the air wouldn’t be until the mid-2020s.
John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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