Self-driving Flights of Fancy Settle Down at CES 2023

The reckoning with ground realities for the self-driving segment wasn’t necessarily a surprise at CES.
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After a dampened couple of years, the Consumer Technology Association returned to the Las Vegas Convention Centre in its archetypal form with more than 115,000 attendees lining up to see offerings from more than 3,200 exhibitors at the show. As far as conferences go, CES 2023 fared well but there was a marked difference in the mood around the autonomous driving space from a few years ago. 

More practical, less fanciful

With time, CES had turned into a prime setting for car manufacturing companies to show what they got. The excitement and hyperfocus surrounding autonomous driving simply wasn’t the same now. Predictions flew around that self-driving cars and cabs would become a thing of the regular by now. Flying cars even seemed like a closer reality than ever before. 

Now that the companies were making smaller promises, the products didn’t draw as many gasps from the audience and the chatter was more muted. 


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The buzzwords had changed to become far less cooler—sustainable, realistic and practical. Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Technology Association, or the CTA, admitted to the change saying, “There’s no question that there’s been a shift. The Biden administration has focused more on electric vehicles than they have on autonomous vehicles”. 

Several transportation vehicles displayed on the show also reflected a more grounded ethos behind them—Stellantis NV showed an electric Ram pickup truck concept that would rival Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup truck or even the Tesla CyberTruck. Electric truck maker Lordstown Motors showed an Endurance plug-in pickup truck. Volkswagen brought its electric sedan ID.7 to the event this year while Volvo introduced a seven-passenger electric SUV EX90 at the show. 

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When it came to autonomous vehicles, the stars of the show weren’t any cars—the John Deere autonomous tractor instead emerged promising utility for farmers by taking automated farming to the next level. The tractor used sensors and robotics to help farmers plant seeds more precisely and fertilise their crops the moment they were planted. 

If we expected fully autonomous cars, CES gave us a fully autonomous stroller. The Ella stroller launched by Canadian company ‘GluxKind’ was the one that grabbed the headlines. The stroller however isn’t meant to move independently with a baby inside, the automatic movement is rather meant for when your baby doesn’t want to ride and is being carried by you. The stroller may not have path breaking technology but its price is an eye-watering USD 3,300. 

High prices, low demand, slow tech

The reckoning with ground realities for the self-driving segment wasn’t necessarily a surprise at CES. 

Towards the end of October last year, Argo AI, the autonomous vehicle technology backed by Ford and Volkswagen Group shut down unceremoniously. Given that cars were still far from touching Level 5 of complete autonomy, Ford had decided to shift strategy for their self-driving division—moving to profit instead of spending more money searching for potential. 

Ford had taken a USD 2.7 billion writedown after Argo shut down, shifting to semi-autonomous features like its Blue Cruise hands-free driving system. 

Industry market leaders like Tesla are also suffering from stiff competition and high prices even as the technology isn’t advancing. Last week, Tesla slashed its prices between the range of 6% and 20% in the US for its Model 3 sedan, its Model Y SUV and a handful of other performance models. Tesla also lowered prices for the European segments. 

Tesla’s price cuts sparked a price war in China for EVs after which Chinese EV manufacturer ‘XPeng’ made major price cuts. Other competitors like Mercedes-Benz also chopped prices. 

The lesson this segment had eventually learned was that the biggest EV manufacturers like Tesla were just at Level 2 autonomy and were too expensive for a market where demand was dwindling due to a recession. 

Tesla also had a host of other problems besides the ones that Musk is dealing with while running operations at Twitter. Just today, Tesla’s director of Autopilot, Ashok Elluswamy reportedly stated in a court deposition that a  much-hyped video released by the company in 2016 falsely represented that it was self-driven. 

Elluswamy stated that the video was ‘intended to portray what was possible to build the system’ and not what the car actually did. Musk then tweeted a link to the video saying that a ‘Tesla drives itself’. 

The deposition is a part of a full investigation being conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, or NHTSA, into the safety of Tesla’s celebrated FSD technology. 

But, it’s not all doom and gloom, with Mercedes-Benz becoming the first automaker to receive certification for Level 3 self-driving in the US. It is however not a mystery that companies just want a break from the self-driving dream. 

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Poulomi Chatterjee
Poulomi is a Technology Journalist with Analytics India Magazine. Her fascination with tech and eagerness to dive into new areas led her to the dynamic world of AI and data analytics.

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