For an electric car that was supposedly just a technology demonstrator, unveiled in a surprise debut at the Consumer Electronics Show a year ago, the Sony car is sure doing road tests like a pre-production prototype. The sleek electric sedan dubbed Vision S-EV, which seemingly came out of nowhere, was a collaboration between electronics juggernaut Sony, supplier giant Magna Steyr (that regularly builds cars for other automakers), and a whole supporting cast of software companies and automotive suppliers including Nvidia, Qualcomm, ZF, Bosch, Continental, and others.
The resulting car, perhaps unsurprisingly, looks pretty much production-ready—like the product of an automaker that’s been building cars for decades. It certainly does not look like a Potemkin-style design study that would come apart if you yanked the door handle too fast.
What’s more, the Sony Vision S-EV appears to be a direct strike against Tesla, being a midsize sedan positioned between the Model 3 and the Model S, and powered by two 268-hp motors, good for good for a combined 536 hp, a top speed of 149 mph, and 4.8-second launches from 0 to 62 mph. Just about the only major spec we don’t have regards the battery underneath, even though it was shown. And just like Tesla, Sony showed off autonomous tech with 33 sensors along with a cabin featuring a wide, wraparound screen stretching across the entire dash. The ergonomic seats looked very cozy up front and in the back, where in addition to headrest-mounted screens the passengers also had a whole glass roof to look through.
To say that the Sony car stole the show in Las Vegas a year ago would be very accurate. But the electronics giant poured cold water on possible production plans, merely suggesting that the car was a technology demonstrator. That’s right: Sony said that it had no plans to produce the car… but all the same it is now undergoing road trials.
“With the goal of contributing to the evolution of mobility, VISION-S development activity has reached the next stage,” said Sony. “While continuing to advance vehicle development for safety and security, entertainment and adaptability, public road testing commenced in Austria in December 2020 for technical evaluation.”
This mention of “stages” certainly suggests there will be other stages down the road.
At this point, we should perhaps highlight once again just what a remarkable moment the car represented when it debuted at CES a year ago: Several multi-billion dollar tech and automotive giants teamed up to create a completely working EV sedan prototype, but then said that they wouldn’t produce it. Sony insisted that the car was a demonstration of the things that it wants to offer other established automakers, namely the wraparound screen and other multimedia systems, but that it wasn’t about to cannonball into the deep end of the car biz. Likewise, Sony’s supplier friends remained on script regarding the suspiciously production-ready sedan, reciting the exciting list of technical items that they had contributed while avoiding questions about its production chances.
Fast-forward a year later, and Sony has now shown off the car undergoing road testing, which is odd for a car that’s not supposed to be going into production. But here it is anyway, in all of its glory, carving up wintery mountain roads.
If it seems to you at this point that an eye-watering amount of development money has been thrown at something that’s not supposed to go into production, you’re not alone, even though a couple of suppliers made some remarks that could be interpreted in different ways.
In sum, there have certainly been some conflicting signals from those involved with the Sony car, including the actual act of road testing something that Sony says it has not decided to build, but has obviously spent a lot of time thinking through. And there’s also a notable disconnect in that there is now a lot more public evidence of a Sony car project, as opposed to an Apple car project. Yet one is believed by some to be headed into production, while the other has already been seen at CES and is now undergoing road tests, but is not something expected to reach production at all.
The concept of an Apple car seems like a slam dunk to some industry observers who want to believe in it, but the idea of a Sony car is being treated as some kind of a pie-in-the-sky fantasy by others. All the while, most of the established Japanese automakers are still in no hurry to field battery-electric cars, and some of them are still pouring cold water on EVs altogether.
Does Sony sense a gap in the car market, even if it doesn’t want to admit it at the moment?
Let’s not forget that a lot of Japanese industrial giants build many different things, from refrigerators to excavators to computers, so an electric car from Sony was never particularly farfetched if you’ve looked through a list of the types of things Honda or Mitsubishi currently produce.
Having noted this, there are still a number of barriers for Sony to overcome to get into the electric car business, the same barriers that Tesla overcame over the past decade while being on shakier financial footing. But the current hesitation of a number of Japanese automakers about EVs could provide it an opening.
Would you buy an electric car from Sony if it brought it to production and offered it? Let us know in the comments below.
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