An industry that is notoriously reluctant to change is embracing the new realities head-on. Electric cars? Yeah, they're here. Chevy will sell you one with a 200-mile range for as low as $30,000 after tax credits. The Bolt offers so much promise, it's poised to leapfrog the Volt, and Chevy just launched the car's new generation last year. Everyone from Volkswagen to Faraday Future (yes, that's a thing) showed off their electric wares at CES, underscoring electric technology is a must-have right now.
Autonomous was ubiquitous at CES. Ford detailed plans to triple its test fleet for the technology. Kia laid out its goals of semi-self drivers by 2020 and full-on autonomous cars by 2030. Volvo, Mercedes, and others also all used CES as a forum to remind the world of their own autonomous prowess.
Plus, everything is shared and on-demand, as General Motors' investment in Lyft (more below) and Audi's Silvercar deal illustrated. Morgan Stanley summed up it all up in a research note to investors: "We anticipate developments in the shared, autonomous, and electric vehicle space to be even more pronounced in 2016, with non-traditional tech/software firms aligning resources and strategies to potentially revolutionize vehicular transport."
It's a revolution indeed, and the first full week of 2016 demonstrated the dramatic changes that are now at hand.
News & Analysis
News: General Motors invests $500 million in Lyft.
Analysis: It's the tip of the iceberg, and it's all about autonomous driving on-demand. That's the endgame. Lyft gives GM a foothold in the ridesharing market, and the Detroit automaker immediately becomes part of the next-generation of mobility. Step 2 is the longer play, when GM can use Lyft as a network for its autonomous cars. Ultimately, when you need a ride, you'll order up a Lyft, and a GM vehicle, like say the Chevy Bolt, will drive itself to your door using guidance from Mobileye (another collaboration announced at CES). At least in GM's utopia, something close to that happens, which is why it's spending half a billion dollars to align with a company that's newer than the Chevy Traverse nameplate. It's a gamble, but GM is wise to put its chips down decisively.
News: Chevy will give the Cruze a hatchback version this fall.
Analysis: This means a lot for enthusiasts, but there's also wider implications. This is a really good-looking car that takes aim at the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf, and Mazda3 hatches. It has style, space, and runs a spunky 1.4-liter turbo four banger. I want to drive this thing. Maybe it won't live up to my expectations, but props to Chevy for listening to the enthusiast clamor. The Cruze hatch also applies to a wider audience. Sure, car guys like hatchbacks almost to the point of irrationality, but Chevy points to a nine-percent growth in the hatch market in 2015. Plenty of mainstream consumers like 'em too.
News: US auto sales hit an all-time record high in 2015.
Analysis: It means the auto industry is healthy and took advantage of positive conditions, including low fuel prices and a strong economy. But right now, 2015 and its 17.47 million sales (according to Autodata) are the answer to a trivia question. What matters is what comes next, and analysts expect 2016 to be even better than last year. We're in the midst of one of the industry's famous boom cycles. Enjoy it.