Last month’s CES show was chock-full of automotive startups, automotive technologies and automotive experts predicting big changes for the automotive industry. Oh sure, there was plenty of other stuff going on at the venue formerly called the Consumer Electronics Show. But the biggest headlines and most of the media attention were firmly focused on the automobile.
It’s amazing to see how fast this all flipped. Just a few years ago the tech industry had little interest in cars or the car industry. In fact, it generally held the automotive industry in disdain. Not anymore. Today the tech industry is falling all over itself to get involved in ridesharing, car sharing, mobility services and autonomous cars – and vice versa.
Automakers and suppliers now are a huge contingent at CES. Automaker CEOs are becoming routine for keynote-speaker slots. Just to show you how important it has become, several automakers now are saving their best concept cars to unveil at CES instead of the major auto shows. Auto suppliers are using it to show off their newest technologies, too.
I learned a lot at the show, especially from speakers and experts who gave great insights from the 40,000-ft. view of what’s going on. But I also picked up on two tidbits that have really stuck with me, because they could have profound implications for the auto industry, electric-vehicle batteries and cybersecurity.
Let’s start with the EV batteries. Back in 2010 the Department of Energy set a cost goal of $125 per kilowatt hour for an EV battery pack by 2022, because that would make electric-propulsion systems equal to the cost of an internal-combustion engine. In addition to individual cells, the battery pack also includes the supporting structure, cooling mechanisms, and battery management systems.
At the time no one saw a clear path of how to get to that cost. But at CES, several EV experts told me the DOE’s number is turning out to be a very conservative goal. They assured me those costs will be under $100 before 2020, and not long after that they will go down to about $80 per kilowatt hour.
If they’re right, that could be a game-changer. It could signal a tipping point for sales of EVs. Just to drive the point home, that means General Motors could take $4,000 out of the cost of the Chevy Bolt EV. If they’re right, I believe that in another decade sales of EVs in the U.S. alone could grow from 80,000 a year to 1 million a year. Plug-in hybrids conceivably could account for another million units a year, maybe more.
As for cybersecurity, up to now the cyber experts I interviewed said it was impossible to stop a determined hacker. They pointed out that even the Pentagon and the National Security Agency have been hacked, so it was virtually impossible to stop hackers from getting into cars.
But what I learned at CES is that while it may be impossible to stop a hacker from getting into a car, we can make cars cyberproof. In other words, hackers may be able to get in, but they won’t be able to do anything once they’re in.
The cyber experts explained this to me in much more technical language, but the way I’d explain it is that it’s the equivalent of catching a hacker, locking him in a metal cabinet and putting it in the basement. They call it early detection and mitigation. But it’s also about having the right “keys” so that malware can’t do anything bad with cars.
Hack-proof cars will be critical or all this talk about autonomous vehicles will be just that – talk. People are not going to buy cars that can drive themselves if they think someone can take control and do something bad to them. The public must have 100% trust in AVs if they have any hope of widespread acceptance.
So it was comforting for me to hear several experts predict cyberproof cars are right around the corner. And it was eye-opening to hear the cost of EV batteries are coming down far faster than anyone expected – enough to trigger a tipping point.
While the tech media gushed effusively about drones, artificial intelligence and wearables, I came away from CES with something else: two simple tidbits of information that could have a profound impact on the global automotive industry.