The Vision-S is a statement about the future of mainstream cars
Sony's new Vision-S tells us everything we already knew about what the car is going to mean to the average consumer sooner than you might think.
As someone who developed an interest in the ever-changing world of technology around the same time I was learning to love pushing small model cars into menacing looking Lego walls, it’s an exciting time to be alive. I say this because the automotive world is going through a technological change that will leave it unrecognizable.
This isn’t like any sort of change we’ve seen before. It’s not like when manufacturers began installing their own infotainment systems, or when the electronic parking brake made empty car parks really boring, this isn’t even about cars going electric because with all those things stripped away, most of the development process is still very much the same.
The changes that are coming will affect the base of what makes (or used to make) a good car. Volkswagen was founded in 1938, that gives them 83 years of experience in how to build a tactile mechanical experience that leaves the average consumer feeling safe and in control. The last part of that sentence is perhaps the biggest change that’s coming over the horizon, “control”. Feeling in control, and therefore safe in a car, used to depend heavily on things like the weighting of the controls, the reactiveness of the steering.
But how the mechanics of your average car feel to a human are unlikely to matter 20 years down the line as computers progressively take over more and more of the driving.
It’s a change that has the potential to threaten the security and leadership of the worlds most recognized and popular automotive brands.
We’ve already seen some solid examples of this happening with the likes of Tesla who seem to be at least a few years ahead of most major players in terms of their automated driving systems and electrical efficiency.
TESLA PRESS LAUNCH 2016
But what this new way of designing a car has also done, is opened the door to established companies that happen to have the exact set of skills that are required in this new age of transport, companies like Sony for example.
Sony originally announced their concept car, the “VISION-S” around a year ago, and at the time it felt like exactly what it was.. a concept. I don’t think anyone was expecting to see this car re-emerge in the coming years let alone be on the road, and yet a year later at this years CES (consumer electronics show), Sony announced that they were testing the car on European roads.
It’s clear to see where personal transport is going when you read their press release on the kind of people they had running the project. It wasn’t the world’s best aero dynamitists or engineers (although you have to assume they were also involved, with a company like Magna Steyr behind a lot of the design). But the people that Sony was much more interested in making a fuss about were engineers from Sony Alpha, who are famed for making some of the best consumer mirrorless cameras on sale, and UX designers from their heavily underrated smartphone division.
SONY GLOBAL CES 2021
It's Sony’s idea of the future that the car (at least as far as the average user is concerned) is going to become all about entertainment, and I think they’re probably right.
If you’re someone who’s simply interested in the car as a means for going from A to B, then as less and less of the actual driving becomes your responsibility, your attention is going to turn to things like the quality of the screens and sound system you’re using to catch up on The Crown whilst you make your way through Monday morning traffic.
SONY GLOBAL CES 2021
Sony knows this and has decided that if there was ever a time to get involved in the automotive industry as a company that’s been focused on creating entertainment products for over 60 years, then it’s now. Their car is hugely saturated with technology, covered in cameras, a screen that fills the dashboard in its entirety, a 3D sound system, and a never-ending list of other products I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention. The point being that all of these pieces of technology I’ve just mentioned are products that Sony has been developing and manufacturing for years and years, they know exactly how to develop these systems quickly, cheaply, and effectively, whilst some of the biggest automotive players are still in their infancy of making these systems a central development focus.
This leaves Sony and a select few other companies similar to Sony at a huge advantage to begin selling a lot of these systems to major automotive players with their branding on it. In much the same way that Audio and HI-FI companies like “Bose” and “Harmon Kardon” began doing when sound became a much more central part of everyone’s daily life in a car.
Even more excitingly, as traditional knowledge on how to build a “good car” becomes less and less relevant, we could even begin to see companies like Sony or LG producing their own standalone automotive products.
LG PRESS IMAGE 2020
Now as I'm sure many people on this website won't be interested in cars because it makes the final scenes of Avengers Endgame sound "epic" I want to reassure you all that I don't believe this spells the end of enjoying yourself on a B-road or taking your car to a track day, because as I remember Richard Hammond saying on a video not too long ago, as long as there is a demand for that type of motoring (and I think this website is proof there is) then there will always be a part of the market that will tailor to that desire, no matter what the future may hold.