Tesla strikes deal to sell cars in Michigan

Tesla has reached a deal with Michigan that will allow the company to sell its cars directly in the state, bringing a multiyear legal battle to an end. It’s a small but crucial victory for Tesla, and one that comes in the home state of the automotive industry.

Thanks to a state law that forces automakers to work with dealers to sell their vehicles, would-be Tesla customers in Michigan have had to travel to neighboring states to buy one of the company’s vehicles. Tesla owners had to do the same to get their vehicles serviced.

But that will now change. The Michigan attorney general’s office announced Wednesday morning that it reached an agreement with Tesla to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the company in 2016 over the state law. (Tesla sued after the state denied it a dealership license.) While Michigan is not repealing the law, it is essentially admitting that there’s enough wiggle room in the language to allow Tesla to sidestep dealer networks and sell directly to consumers moving forward.

Tesla will now be able to make deliveries to customers in Michigan, and also walk customers through the buying process at its lone showroom in the state — something it was previously unable to do. The company will also likely open more showrooms and service centers as a result.

There are small caveats to all this, though. Cars sold in the state will have to come with out-of-state titles in order to get around the language of the law. That means customers in Michigan will have to go through the process of transferring the title if they want the car to be titled in their home state. And any service centers Tesla opens in Michigan will have to be owned by a subsidiary.

While it may seem like a strange way to compromise, Dan Crane, a law professor at the University of Michigan, believes it may have been the only way for the state to save face.

“What happened here is I think the Michigan attorney general realized that going through this trial would be embarrassing for the state,” he said.

Instead, Crane said, the state decided to “settle in a way that lets Tesla do what it wants to do, but gives the appearance of complying with Michigan law.”

Will Zerhouni, who wrote an analysis of Tesla’s legal fight with Michigan for the Cato Institute in 2018, agreed — though he’s not sure the state went far enough.

“The settlement shows that Michigan saw its position as untenable and potentially indefensible at trial,” wrote Zerhouni, who is now a founder and partner at Mighty Stream Capital Management LLC, a new firm focused on impact investing and litigation finance. “Instead, the state, which couldn’t rescind validly passed law on its own, settled in a way that read onerous and anticompetitive (and potentially unconstitutional) restrictions out of that law. That is all to the good — but it would be better if the state (and others) did away with the charade and repealed the law altogether.”

The decision to dismiss Tesla’s lawsuit, once it’s approved by the court, will not just make it easier for Tesla to sell its cars directly to consumers, but could help other automakers as well, according to Crane and Zerhouni.

“Consumers are used to e-commerce and direct-to-consumer sales these days, and are starting to expect to be able to buy cars this way. It’s going to be hard to hold back the floodgates,” Crane said.

“The settlement is technically only an agreement between Tesla and Michigan,” Zerhouni said. “It would, however, be very hard for Michigan to say that they are going to interpret the statute differently for other automakers.”

The decision could also put pressure on other states that have resisted allowing car companies to sell directly to consumers, like Connecticut and Texas, according to Crane.

“Michigan really is a momentum-shifter on this, and it’s going to be increasingly hard for state legislators to convince consumers why they can’t do what everyone expects to be able to do,” he said.

Dealer organizations could try to stand in the way of these changes, possibly by suing the state itself over this new interpretation of the law, Crane said. (Michigan’s dealer association told The Verge it is “still reviewing” the decision, and the National Automobile Dealers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) Still, he doesn’t see them winning out in the end.

“These are legacy statues that came from a much different time, 40, 50 years ago,” Crane said. “The world has changed in so many ways.”

Foxconn and Fiat Chrysler will make electric cars for China

iPhone manufacturer Foxconn is getting into the electric vehicle game, thanks to a planned joint venture with Italian-American automaker Fiat Chrysler (FCA). Foxconn announced on Thursday that the two companies will combine forces to make vehicles for the Chinese market, with FCA handling the manufacturing and the Taiwanese tech giant managing the electronics and software.

The two companies have not yet signed a contract, according to a filing on Taiwan’s stock exchange, but Nikkei reports that they’ve been in talks for months.

FCA, which oversees its eponymous brands as well as ones like Jeep and Dodge, has lagged behind its competitors in embracing electric vehicle technology. The company recently kicked off a merger with French automaker PSA Group, which makes cars under the Peugeot and Citroën brands (among others), partly in order to better attack the changing automotive landscape. The Italian-American automaker has also done some due diligence on a number of struggling EV startups in the US in an attempt to accelerate its electric ambitions, as The Verge first reported in November.

Aided by government policies and subsidies, China has become the biggest market for electric vehicles in the world, and it continued to grow last year despite a slowdown in the country’s overall automotive market. Electric vehicle sales increased by 6 percent in 2019 compared to 2018, despite the overall car sales dropping by 8 percent. And even though China’s economy is cooling off after decades of rapid growth, the electric vehicle market there is expected to easily outpace the ones in Europe and the US in the coming decade.

FCA is far from alone in trying to tap into this trend. Western automakers have spent years carving out space in the market. Some, like FCA, have had more trouble than others, and so teaming up with Foxconn could help the Italian-American automaker find a foothold. In return, Foxconn would get help in diversifying away from consumer technology. To wit: Foxconn chairman Young Liu told Nikkei that he believes the move into electric vehicles could ultimately account for 10 percent of the company’s overall sales.

Aston Martin won’t say whether its electric car is dead or alive

Aston Martin might have killed the Rapide E, its first electric car, before it ever shipped according to an Autocar report from late last week. But Aston Martin won’t say if this is true or not, as a spokesperson tells The Verge that the company “can’t comment on product speculation.”

“Everybody is asking…” the spokesperson said in a text message, before repeating the line about speculation. “Can’t say any more than that I’m afraid.”

The automaker did not mention anything about the Rapide E on a call with financial analysts last week. Autocar also reported, according a single source close to the British automaker, Aston Martin is instead planning to use the Rapide E as a research project for future electric vehicles — likely under its resurrected Lagonda brand.

The Rapide E made its official debut in April 2019 at the Auto Shanghai motor show after a tortuous four years of development. Announced in 2015, Aston Martin had once planned to build the car as part of a joint venture with Chinese tech conglomerate LeEco. But when LeEco went under in 2017, Aston Martin was forced to scale back its ambitions for the Rapide E. The British automaker announced that year that it would only make 155 of the electric sports sedan, and wound up once again partnering with Williams Advanced Engineering (the technical arm of the Williams F1 team), which had built the original Rapide E prototype.

Production troubles aside, Aston Martin would be asking a lot of those 155 customers if it ever brought the Rapide E to market. The specs never quite lined up with the price tag, which at one point was $255,000. Aston Martin was only promising around 200 miles of range at best, and that’s before any official estimates from the European Union or the Environmental Protection Agency in the US. That could be partially thanks to the weight; at 4,717 pounds, the Rapide E was about 400 pounds heavier than the internal combustion Rapide S. But it’s also because, in the simplest terms, Aston Martin was stuffing electric tech into the body of the internal combustion engine Rapide.

Yes, the Rapide E was supposed to have twin motors that put out over 600 horsepower, with a top speed of 155 miles per hour and a 0 to 60 mph time of under four seconds. But anyone pushing the car to that level of performance would also undoubtedly crush the battery’s already limited range.

Aston Martin has struggled mightily over the last few years (and has gone bankrupt seven times in its 100-plus-year history), and even ended production of the standard Rapide in 2019. The automaker has pinned much of its hopes on the DBX, its first SUV, but that vehicle isn’t due until later this year. In the meantime, Aston Martin is reportedly soliciting bids from outside investors, as it has $1 billion in debt and finished 2019 with just $139 million in cash.

The Hummer will reportedly be resurrected as an electric pickup

General Motors is readying the announcement of an all-electric pickup truck that will carry the branding of the company’s infamous gas-guzzling Hummer, according to The Wall Street Journal. The new vehicle will reportedly be teased during a Super Bowl commercial starring LeBron James.

GM will sell the Hummer truck starting in 2022 under its GMC brand, and it isn’t expected to revive Hummer as a complete brand of its own, as it once was, according to the report. GM killed the Hummer brand in 2010 following the financial crisis, the automaker’s government bailout, and rising fuel costs. Representatives for GM and GMC declined to comment.

Rumors have swirled for months that GM was planning to revive the Hummer nameplate, likely for an electric vehicle. The company is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar push to release 20 new electric vehicles (across all of its global markets) by 2023, and it’s shown that it’s willing to take big chances in order to meet that goal. GM wanted to make an electric pickup truck with Rivian, but it was reportedly rebuffed after asking for exclusive rights to the Michigan-based EV startup’s tech. (Rivian has since struck a nonexclusive deal with Ford.) GM has also sold its shuttered factory in Lordstown, Ohio, to an electric truck startup called Lordstown Motors and is planning to build a $2.3 billion factory in the town in conjunction with LG’s battery division.

GM is reviving the Hummer at a time of skyrocketing SUV and pickup truck sales in the United States, fueled by reasonable gas prices, customer demand for things like higher seating position and a sense of security (in addition to utility), and the fact that automakers simply make more profit on these vehicles. That boom in SUV and truck sales has, unfortunately, had a human cost, though, in the form of a major jump in global CO2 emissions for the sector as well as a dramatic rise in pedestrian deaths. While an electric Hummer might help mitigate the former, it certainly wouldn’t do much to change the latter.

Byton’s 48-inch screen might not be as distracting as it looks

A car with a 48-inch screen on the dashboard sounds like a distracted driving nightmare, and to be honest, that could likely wind up being the case. But two years after Byton teased the idea in a concept car that debuted at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, the Chinese EV startup returned to CES and offered a chance to drive its electric SUV in an effort to prove that its headline-grabbing screen may not be as problematic as it seems.

On Wednesday evening, I spent 15 or so minutes behind the wheel of the second preproduction unit of Byton’s car — the M-Byte SUV — driving around a parking lot next to Bally’s Casino. It wasn’t enough time to walk away with comprehensive feelings about how the car drove, and the interior and software were in too unfinished a state for me to gather any more than the most basic impressions.

I can say the 48-inch screen stole my attention less than I thought it would. Part of that has to do with the fact that it’s designed so that it looks like it’s sinking into the dashboard. This made it easy for me to literally look past it while driving (though I am six feet tall). If anything, I found the smaller touchscreen that’s embedded in the steering wheel to be more distracting since it feels somewhat unnatural to have a screen that close to my face that I’m not actively holding.

Another thing that helped is that Byton made some design choices that mitigate the main display’s presence. The user interface is divided into sections that can be customized with different widgets, but each one of these sections can also be turned off. The overall interface has also been designed to be quite minimalist. Videos can’t be played while in motion, and even those widgets won’t update until the car is stopped, too.

“We’re focused on making it less distracting to the driver,” Jeff Chung, Byton’s vice president of digital engineering, told me earlier this week. ”We do a lot of user testing to understand the cognitive load on each driver or passenger, with people inside the company and external and all different geographies. And even though we have a big display, you’ll notice we’re trying to take a more simplistic approach.”

Whether the 48-inch screen is necessary is an entirely different issue. I mean, of course it’s not necessary, regardless of how much Byton (and companies like it) push the idea that this kind of technology helps turn a car into a connected thing that can help “give users time back,” as Chung put it. The display might make more sense in a world of fully autonomous vehicles, but its existence, let alone its size, isn’t crucial to the basic function of modern cars.

But while Byton’s massive screen may look and feel like an outlier, the startup is far from the only company trying something like this. Tesla has built its brand around the big screens in its cars. Other startups like Byton are following in its big-screen footsteps. The car that Sony unveiled this week had a similarly dashboard-spanning set of screens. Hell, even Cadillac’s new Escalade will feature a 38-inch dashboard screen.

In that sense, it feels like a fool’s errand to rely on Byton alone to say whether we should put tech like this in our vehicles when that’s really the kind of question we’d be better off answering ourselves.

Sony’s electric car is the best surprise of CES

To answer your question: no, you won’t be able to buy the Sony car. Not any time soon, at least. The company has no plans to mass-produce the Vision-S, the car it surprise-announced at the end of its press conference at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, nor does it plan to do a limited run.

Instead, the Sony Vision-S really exists somewhere between a concept and a prototype. Like a concept, it’s meant to showcase the ideas Sony has for the world of cars. But like a prototype, the car actually works.

There’s actually a long list of those ideas on display in the Vision-S. One of the big focal points is, unsurprisingly, the entertainment experience and user interface. That starts with a set of rectangular displays on the dashboard that stretch from pillar to pillar.

Both the middle display and the one in front of the passenger seat are touchscreens. This is where the driver and passenger can access all of the car’s media controls. That included things like — shocker! — Sony-owned movies or Sony-licensed music, but also a tab for games (which wasn’t working) and another for vehicle settings.

The animations of these menus were fluid, clever, and just overall excellent. For instance, a quick L-swipe at the top left of the middle screen moved whatever was currently on display to the passenger screen — an interaction that felt deeply satisfying. There is also more than one way to interact with the user interface. A separate trackpad extends out from the center console, and this can be used to tap through menus, and is capable of multitouch gestures. It’s also where the driver and passenger can change the car’s climate control settings. And below that was a big silver dial dedicated to volume control that could also serve other purposes.

It was a controlled demo, to be sure, but Sony deserves some credit for having the user interface piece of the experience feel so locked in. After all, it was less than two months ago that Ford totally blew this part of the Mustang Mach-E reveal. While it’s still hard to imagine cars with displays that span entire dashboards, I could see how Sony’s idea might be more practical than, say, the massive single screen of EV startup Byton.

Rear seat passengers aren’t left out of this experience, as they each have their own seatback touchscreens. And Sony outfitted the Vision-S with high-end sound equipment including speakers in each headrest, which the company says would make it possible for passengers to watch different things at the same time.

Another idea that Sony infused in the Vision-S is that the company’s camera sensors could make useful components in cars, especially cars with advanced driver assistance features or perhaps even fully self-driving functionality. The company is also using its image sensors to power the side-view cameras that take the place of traditional mirrors in the Vision-S. To that end, the Vision-S has more than 10 Sony image sensors embedded throughout the vehicle, alongside a host of other sensors like LIDARs, radars, and ultrasonics.

Sony could have just shoehorned bits of all this technology into a static concept vehicle. But the company figured the best way to prove to automakers and other industry players that it was serious was to fully embrace the challenge of building a working electric car.

“Through the process of building the prototype, we started to learn a lot about the architecture of the vehicle, we started to think about how our other technologies could be implemented in a vehicle,” Yuhei Yabe, the general manager of Sony Corporation’s AI and robotics business group, said in an interview.

That meant sourcing battery cells (Sony wouldn’t say where from) and packaging them together in what appears to be a fairly full-size battery pack. The company worked with automotive manufacturer Magna to help with the vehicle engineering work, and the result is a car with laudable specs for a first attempt. It can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 4.5 seconds thanks to two 200kW motors (one on each axle), and has a top speed of 149 miles per hour. The company didn’t cite a range figure, though the graphic in the cockpit showed 277 miles remaining with 82 percent battery. Sony says it imagines all these technological underpinnings could be used to power all sorts of vehicles, from SUVs to minivans to more utilitarian people movers.

It’s hard to explain how refreshing it is to see a company approach a concept car this way, especially at a show like CES. Automakers love to trot out what are basically rolling hunks of plastic and LED lighting. They’ll then saddle the glorified prop with their massive ambitions, even if the car might just fall to pieces if you breathe on it too hard.

Sony didn’t have to go and make a real car to show off some tech it thought might be good for the automotive space. But it did it anyway, and the car the company produced is remarkably coherent and downright attractive to boot.

Making cars at any scale is a grueling business, though. It takes a ton of work, and even more money. So it’s probably a good thing for Sony that it doesn’t plan to make the Vision-S — even if people wind up walking away from CES 2020 wanting a Sony car.

Up close with Mercedes-Benz’s Avatar concept car

There are many questions one could ask about the Avatar-inspired concept car that Mercedes-Benz unveiled Monday night at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show. Why did the company think this was the best way to highlight its sustainability goals? How much of the ideas and technology in the car will ever translate to the road? And why Avatar?

But one of the security guards who spent the evening keeping tabs on the crowd had a much simpler query for a Mercedes-Benz employee: “Where are the windshield wipers?”

The answer he was given almost doesn’t matter, though it had something to do with hydrophobic glass, I think. Instead, the moment was a funny reminder that many people never grasp why concept cars exist, and that’s probably something automakers should consider.

At the highest level, concepts are supposed to serve a few purposes. They’re a playground where an automaker’s designers can run wild with ideas that might never make it into a straightforward production car. They act as something of a testbed for the most advanced technologies that an automaker is working on at any given moment. And they can serve as a signpost of where a company eventually wants to take its product lineup.

Mercedes-Benz hit most of those points during its hour-long press conference on Monday night, but they were also obscured by the glitz. There were butterfly drones flying around the theater, lots of typical tech event techno music, and the obligatory CES interview with Gary Shapiro. And then there was all of the Avatar stuff. We saw concept art from the Avatar sequel, which is allegedly due out sometime this century. We heard from producer Jon Landau about what his job is like. We were told how Mercedes-Benz wants to become the world’s “most loved luxury brand,” like that matters to anyone outside the company’s corporate retreats.

Then James Cameron came on stage and talked about protecting Gaia, but also about how he thinks it’s inevitable that humans and machines will merge, just like the Na’vi did with their banshees.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

It was a lot! And it’s not that Mercedes-Benz lost the plot, exactly. But it did sort of suffer from what you could probably call Big CES Keynote disease. Companies that come here spend a lot of money, time, and resources in securing one of these prime slots on the eve of the show, and so they inevitably try to get as much bang for their buck. Sometimes that results in Intel assembling a menagerie of light-up trampoliners and octadecacopters. Other times it spawns… whatever this was. Mercedes-Benz did the right thing in focusing on one product and, ostensibly, one (grand) message. But it still sort of stretched the whole idea into oblivion.

Which brings us back to the windshield wiper question. Maybe that security guard wasn’t paying close attention to all the blue-tinted excitement that was happening on stage, and is perhaps he’s unfamiliar with the car industry in general. But I’d bet it was more that he was a bit bewildered, much like me or the woman next to me, who at one point gave up and started flipping through her vacation photos on her iPad. Had Mercedes-Benz truly stuck to its pitch — “we want to be green and this Avatar car shows how far we think we could stretch it if the sky’s the limit,” essentially — maybe that wouldn’t have been the first question on his mind at the end of the night.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

As for the car, it’s a concept, and it looks really rad. You might disagree, and that’s kind of the point of these things as design exercises, so that’s great! I especially like the scales on the back of the car, which Mercedes-Benz calls ‘bionic flaps.” They make a really soothing noise when they move in unison. Overall, from the outside, I also think you could look at the many concepts Mercedes-Benz has brought to CES over the years and draw a somewhat straight line between them to this car, which is wild considering how different they all feel on their own terms.

The interior is cleanly and beautifully designed, I found the way the curves all fit together when viewed from a side profile to be pleasing. The wheels are a bit much, but they tickle a part of my brain that has to do with the toys I had as a kid. I also really enjoyed the feeling of the seats when sat inside a mockup of the cockpit during a sneak preview of the car and its various technologies.

None of those are things that truly speak to the car’s raison d’etre, and some of them are things that are easy to find in other concepts. Maybe in time they’ll fall by the wayside, and we’ll instead think back more on the parts of the car that are more core to Mercedes-Benz’s mission of sustainability. The more likely scenario, though, is that in a decade we’ll have to be reminded of the reason this car exists — which means an Avatar partnership actually is the perfect fit.

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Mercedes-Benz unveils an Avatar-themed concept car with scales

Mercedes-Benz has just pulled the wraps off of a wild new concept car that was inspired by the 2009 movie Avatar called — what else? — the Mercedes-Benz Vision AVTR. Designed with help from Avatar director James Cameron, this car is not the sequel that Cameron has promised. Instead, the AVTR concept car is a mix of everything that the Consumer Electronics Show is known for: outlandish styling, far-off future tech, and a tie-in with a major entertainment property. Oh, and it has scales!

Yes, the entire rear end of the AVTR is covered in 33 discrete scales — or as Mercedes-Benz calls them, “bionic flaps” — that the company says could be used to communicate with people outside the car. It also has special spherical wheels that Mercedes-Benz says were inspired by the “seeds of the Tree of Souls” from 2009’s Avatar. These wheels can rotate so that the AVTR can move sideways, or even diagonally.

Like all concept cars, the Vision AVTR is meant to tease out what it will be like to ride in a car of the future. And while the inside of the car is relatively sparse, Mercedes-Benz has a lot of ideas about what might be possible inside something like the AVTR.

That starts with the lack of steering wheel. Since this futuristic car is obviously (theoretically) autonomous, there’s no need for one. Instead, passengers interact with the car through an oval-shaped controller that accordions up and out of the center console to meet your hand. Once your hand is on the controller, it (and the seats) can vibrate along with the pace of your breathing and heart rate. Ola Källenius, the chairman of Mercedes-Benz’s parent company Daimler, said on stage Monday night that it’s an example of how man and machine might “literally merge.”

To that end, Mercedes-Benz likens this — seriously — to how the Na’vi physically connect with their banshees in the 2009 movie Avatar. And once passengers start moving in the AVTR car, the sweeping display in front of them can light up with 3D graphics of Pandora, the fictional world from the 2009 film Avatar. After Cameron joined Källenius on stage, he agreed with the chairman’s claim. “We will merge,” Cameron said.

If flying solo through the world of Avatar isn’t your speed, Mercedes-Benz imagines the AVTR car will be able to detect when a family is on board and adapt automatically. The company didn’t go too deep into what kinds of family features it would surface, though it did say in its 23-page press release that parents will be able to monitor their children from the dashboard screen. Rejoice, as the burden of turning around to tell your kids to stop hitting each other is no more. And if children (or as Mercedes-Benz calls them in one instance in the press release, “inmates”) start feeling lonely, fear not, because there will be a light that mimics the breathing vibration to let them know they have not yet been abandoned by their parents. But that won’t be a problem in the first place, because back-seat riders will have access to learning-oriented gaming and a “child-friendly augmented reality experience.”

Mercedes-Benz also spent a lot of time on Monday night talking about how it designed the Vision AVTR with sustainability in mind. The concept car is “powered” by graphene-based organic battery cells that don’t require rare earth minerals, which the company says may one day be compostable, and the interior is made from recycled plastics and vegan leather. (It does not seem to employ any unobtanium, though.) Mercedes-Benz reps even said in a briefing that they believe the special spherical wheels would make less of an impact on the forest floor, should someone drive the AVTR there.

Mercedes-Benz is pushing this angle hard because, like the other major automakers, the company committed to a long-term goal of reducing its carbon footprint. It therefore sees something like AVTR as a literal and metaphorical vehicle for communicating those goals.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Photography by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

China’s NIU starts selling its electric mopeds in the US

Chinese startup NIU is bringing its Vespa-style electric mopeds in the United States. The company says it made its slick and somewhat affordable electric two-wheelers available for purchase in San Francisco, San Diego, Austin, Chicago, Washington, DC, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Honolulu, and it’s spinning up sales operations in some of those cities right now.

NIU (not to be confused with electric vehicle startup NIO) is perhaps best known Stateside, if it’s known at all, because it supplies the vehicles for the shared moped service Revel. Revel launched last year in New York City with 1,000 of NIU’s mopeds, and it has since expanded to some of the cities NIU is now targeting, including Washington, DC, Austin, and most recently, Miami. The service is fairly affordable, and I found it to be a great way to get around Brooklyn in the warmer months. I especially liked it as a ride-hailing replacement.

But use shared services too much, and the costs can really add up. That’s why it’s exciting to see that NIU is starting to sell the vehicles directly in the US. The company says the entry-level models will start in the mid-$2,000 range, which seems appropriate. That’s roughly twice as expensive as some top-flight electric bikes, but it’s cheaper than any electric motorcycle.

NIU’s electric mopeds are what Revel uses in its shared fleets.
Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

NIU’s mopeds are typically quick and nimble, with ranges as low as around 25 miles and as high as over 100 miles. They’re also connected. NIU has built out an impressive companion smartphone app that can track the mopeds via GPS, turn them on or off, or let users check vehicle diagnostics. NIU can also ship over-the-air software updates to add features, make changes, or fix problems with the mopeds.

Taiwanese company Gogoro teased its impressive electric scooter at CES five years ago, but it has kept its focus trained on its home country ever since. It’s been frankly painful to watch the US lag behind the electric scooter revolution, so NIU’s arrival is something of a sight for sore eyes. It’s possible that US consumers might not take to a Chinese startup that’s collecting that much data, especially in the wake of the US government’s increased resistance to companies like DJI and Huawei. Even if that becomes the case, though, let’s at least hope the arrival of NIU’s mopeds inspires more companies to test the waters in the US.

Sony surprises with an electric concept car called the Vision-S

Sony just made what might be one of the biggest surprise announcements at this year’s CES: a car. Called the Sony Vision-S, it’s an electric concept sedan that is meant to showcase the Japanese tech conglomerate’s many different strengths, from entertainment products to camera sensors and more.

In fact, the Vision-S features 33 different sensors inside and outside of the car, multiple widescreen displays, 360 audio, and always-on connectivity, with some pieces coming from industry players like BlackBerry and Bosch. It’s also powered by a “newly-designed EV platform” — which appears to have been engineered by automotive supplier Magna — that Sony says will be able to power other vehicle types, like SUVs.

The outside of the vehicle has some strong Porsche vibes, especially around the headlights, and in side profile it somewhat resembles the Lucid Motors Air. Inside, the Vision-S features a dashboard-spanning screen much like the one that Chinese EV startup Byton is putting in its cars, with screens for rear-seat passengers in the headrests.

Image: Sony

“This prototype embodies our contribution to the future of mobility,” Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida said.

The company announced the car at the tail end of its CES press conference, where it also unveiled the logo for the upcoming PlayStation 5. Sony only spent a minute or two discussing the car before ending the press conference, too, and so it left tons of questions unanswered. Does Sony (or Magna) intend to put this into production, or is it just meant to be a reference car? Will Magna let other companies build their own prototypes or reference cars on the platform?

And, of course: will we be able to play it in Gran Turismo?

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Image by Sony

Image by Sony

Image by Sony

Image by Sony

Image by Sony

Sony also announced that its successful image sensor division also seems to be making investments into technologies that are adjacent to self-driving, including LIDAR and Time-of-Flight cameras. Below, find a bit from the company’s press release about how it describes those investments.

CMOS image sensors which achieve high sensitivity, high definition and high dynamic range while also suppressing LED flicker*3 to deliver accurate object recognition, even in situations where conventionally detection has been difficult.

Solid State LiDAR which uses highly accurate distance measurement to gain a precise 3D grasp of real-life spaces.

Sensor fusion technology which merges the capabilities of sensors of varied attributes to enable early and accurate recognition, even in challenging conditions such as fog, backlight and night-time driving.

Time-of-Flight (ToF) in-cabin sensing solutions use distance measurement technology to detect and recognize people and objects inside the car. This information is used to provide an optimized infotainment system with intuitive interfaces such as gesture control and improve safety and comfort inside the vehicle.