Sony Vision-S: The Entertainment Giant Looks To Build An Electric Car – Forbes

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Sony will likely create and sell an electric vehicle after it forms a Sony Mobility subsidiary in the spring. Sony Tuesday exhibited a prototype SUV, the Sony Vision-S, live at CES 2022 in Las Vegas. The announcement may put Sony ahead of other tech companies thinking about the car business, notably Apple, as well as Google’s parent Alphabet and Baidu, the Chinese search company.
Today’s automobiles have become electronic devices on wheels and that seems a perfect opportunity for Sony. The Vision-S would integrate the capabilities of the Sony PlayStation 5 console. Sony also has expertise in designing car audio systems for manufacturers.
Barring any change of heart, that would likely lead it to produce a version of the Vision-S. “We believe Sony is well-positioned as a creative entertainment company to redefine mobility,” said Kenichiro Yoshida, Sony’s chairman and chief executive office.
Known for breakthrough consumer electronics, from the original Walkman cassette player to today’s PlayStation, Sony has been tinkering with the idea of putting its technology on wheels for several years. At the last in-person CES, in 2020, Sony rolled out an early version of the Vision-S 01 prototype (the 2022 version is the Vision-S 02) and Yoshida noted, “The excitement we received…really encouraged us to further consider how we can bring creativity and technology to change the experience of moving from one place to another.”
If anything, the window of opportunity may have opened up in what has traditionally been a tightly restricted auto industry, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal auto analyst with Guidehouse Insights.
“There is a potentially vibrant, emerging market for EVs,” Abuelsamid said, and an opportunity for start-ups to take on traditional manufacturers, as Tesla has demonstrated. The window “is closing fast,” Abuelsamid stressed, as traditional carmakers like General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen ramp up spending and start rolling new EVs out to market.
While Sony isn’t going into detail about a production Sony-mobile, it would be an all-electric crossover, like the concept.
It “has been developed on a foundation of safety, adaptability and entertainment,” Yoshida explained, adding, “Safety has been our No. 1 priority in creating a comfortable mobility experience. That has not changed when building this SUV. A total of 40 sensors are installed inside and outside of the vehicle to monitor safety.”
Like the two Vision-S concepts, few would be surprised if the production model adds some level of semi-autonomous—perhaps fully hands-free—driving capabilities. Many automakers now offer Level 2, meaning the driver remains alert while the car paces the car ahead and self-centers on limited-access roads. To keep abreast of technology, a 2023 or later vehicle would need Level 3, meaning extended hands-off driving, the driver would not need eyes on the road but would have to be ready to take over with “advance notice,” which could be in five minutes when exiting the interstate or it could be a handful of seconds.
A hands-off vehicle could be the perfect environment for PlayStation apps as well as other video gaming and entertainment.
Extended infotainment is happening across the industry. The latest vehicles have digital displays everywhere. The Hyperscreen in the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQS stretches from pillar-to-pillar across the dashboard. The new Jeep Grand Wagoneer not only offers infotainment screens for those in its rear seats but puts another one in front of the passenger riding shotgun. Wagoneer and new Grand Cherokee models also have Amazon’s FireTV built-in, allowing users to stream content.
During his own CES presentation on Wednesday in Las Vegas (like Sony’s, it was live), Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares announced an expanded relationship with Amazon, adding that software and subscription services are expected to generate about $4.5 billion in annual revenue for the Euro-American automaker by 2026, and $23 billion by 2030.
When Byton, a struggling automotive start-up, debuted its M-Byte battery car at CES 2020, it forecast it could make more money off in-car infotainment than it does actually selling one of its vehicles.
That appears to be one of the reasons why Apple continues flirting with the idea of entering the automotive market. It’s another tech giant that certainly knows how to make money off digital hardware, software and entertainment services. Apple’s commitment to getting into the car business has been on-and-off, though it has again begun signaling it could have an all-electric offering ready by mid-decade.
But the cost of entry can be daunting. Dyson, the British company best known for its vacuums and hand dryers was well into developing a line of electric SUVs, even laying out manufacturing plans, before suddenly killing its multi-billion-dollar program. Founder James Dyson said he didn’t believe the company would be able to recoup its investment in an increasingly competitive EV market.
“You can burn through a lot of cash very quickly,” cautioned analyst Abuelsamid.
Still, Sony does have deep pockets. It has a market capitalization of nearly $160 billion. And, as of mid-2021, Sony reported having $16 billion in cash on hand. The same could be said of Apple and Alphabet/Google: money in the bank to try new ventures.
A fundamental challenge to tech companies that want to build EVs or self-driving is: Who’s going to build them? A car factory isn’t cheap to build or staff, so newcomers look for other automakers or contract manufactures such as Austria’s Steyr, now a unit of major supplier Magna. A second issue is who has the final say on production. When Apple shopped for a manufacturer to build an Apple iCar, reports said the egos of Apple and some European automakers made a linkup impossible as both wanted the final word. So Sony may face more than technological challenges in becoming the next Tesla or Rivian.

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