During Sony’s keynote presentation at CES 2022, the company revisited the VISION-S 01 sedan it had previewed in 2020 only to follow up with the new VISION-S 02 crossover (above) and the announcement of Sony Mobility. While Apple has been flirting with building an automobile for years, Sony has actually decided to roll the dice by launching a new company and even has functional prototypes to help woo the public.
Sony Mobility Inc. won’t become an official business until spring of 2022 and the car-selling arm is really more of a pilot program. But the groundwork has been laid for the electronics firm to become a fully-fledged automaker.
The company had previously shown off the VISION-S 01 to showcase how its sensing and communications hardware could be adapted for use in automobiles. At the time, it looked like Sony wanted to be an industry supplier specializing in connected vehicles and advanced driving aids. However, CES 2022 has made it clear that the business is open to the idea of selling cars, even if we’re more inclined to believe it’s just setting itself up for strategic partnerships with existing manufacturers.
“With our imaging and sensing, cloud, 5G and entertainment technologies combined with our content mastery, we believe Sony is well positioned as a creative entertainment company to redefine mobility,” Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida during the keynote address.
Sony believes it can leverage its camera, robotics, and AI tech for automobiles as the world transitions toward electric vehicles. With that in mind, it might be better to think of its VISION-S prototypes as a testbed for its goods and services. The 02 crossover (Sony calls it an SUV) featured a way for passengers to play the latest PlayStation gaming console from within the car, allowing it to network with the users’ home device — importing/exporting profiles, save states, and even entire games.
It also helped the company highlight the cloud platform it shares with the 01 sedans, which has been driving around Europe for the last two years. But it’s not clear if Sony has been cruising the prototype around to test its connectivity features or test the vehicle itself. Regardless, it’s good publicity for whatever the company decides to do next.
The cars themselves are about what you’d expect. Interiors are heavy on the touchscreens and light on design, mimicking the smartphone-type styling that’s become tragically commonplace among EVs. Exteriors similarly are forgettable, matching most other compact electric vehicles coming from businesses that don’t already sell millions of automobiles every year (and some that do). Sony’s prototypes have 5G connectivity and feature some unique features — including remote driving from the other side of the world. But they’re basically the same thing everyone else has been working on these last few years with Sony giving it a unique twist.
But none of that really matters if the cars can’t ever be purchased. All Sony has said is that it’s “actively exploring” a commercial launch and that hinges on the business actually being able to manufacture vehicles at some kind of scale. Unless Sony is ready to redefine itself as a company (spending a fortune in the process), it’s going to need partners to make that possible on even a small scale. Meanwhile, the brunt of its press materials spent more time exploring the merits of the entertainment hardware going into the VISION-S models (e.g. panoramic touch screens, advanced audio systems, streaming services, interior lighting solutions, voice command, data clouds) than the stuff that propels them around.
That makes it feel like Sony is a lot more focused on selling those items than an entire EV. But it’s not exactly ignoring the VISION-S prototypes either. They’re supposedly game for over-the-air updates (OTAs) that will keep them fresh long after the initial purchase and utilize the same adaptive, skateboard-style platform Sony has been working on over the last few years.
On the VISION-S 01, that has yielded a midsize all-wheel-drive sedan clocking in at 5,180 pounds. Power is split between two 200kW electric motors at the front and rear. Top speed is limited to 149 mph. The VISION-S 02 crossover is roughly the same dimensions, just with more ground clearance and headroom. It uses the same powertrain and suspension (double wishbones at the front and air springs in the rear) while coming in at 5,467 pounds with a limited top speed. However, Sony claimed it would still be able to exceed 112 mph.
Though without more details on the batteries they’ll be using and some relevant range estimates, it’s a little hard to take either all that seriously. Sony said both vehicles were test platforms and subject to change upon production and I guess we’ll just have to wait around to see what happens.
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