CES 2021

Like almost everything in the COVID era, the automotive industry has been dramatically impacted by consumer lifestyle changes brought about by the pandemic. At all-digital CES 2021, auto and tech experts explained how carmakers are focusing more on how their vehicles make people feel, and how the ways they’re being used have changed. “For many people, the car became the second space after your home – a sanctuary, an escape, a respite from your job and remote learning,” Jacobs Media President Fred Jacobs told Inside Radio, summarizing the Tuesday panel, “Vehicle Tech Innovations Consumers Want.”

The redefined role may be best summarized in a Lincoln TV spot where a woman gets into her vehicle, reclines her seat, puts on some relaxing music and escapes the pressures of her high pressure at-home pandemic lifestyle. “You have to understand how the car has changed and how people are using it,” Jacobs says.

While the morning commute ritual has changed for many and may never get back to pre-COVID levels, the panelists described how consumers are using their cars for more social purposes, such as family trips, Sunday drives or simply to get out of the house and safely go somewhere… anywhere. With vehicles being less about utility and more about escape and a new social setting, having the right entertainment system on board has never been more important. The CES automotive panelists “all agreed audio is a big part of the future of the car,” Jacobs recounts. “But this idea of how you get the content you want is shifting away from knobs and buttons as voice becomes more important.” Understanding that some are more tech savvy than others, automakers are working on giving motorists different ways to control their in-dash systems so that everyone is comfortable with them, something that hasn’t always been the case for some. Moreover, sound quality is becoming more important as consumers expect the same sonics they’re accustomed to at home.

Another trend to look out for: fluidity in car sound systems. Thanks to software updates done seamlessly through the cloud, owners are no longer chained to the system they chose when they first bought the car or, for used car owners, the one the previous owner selected.

All of this adds up to cars and trucks becoming increasingly complex. One panelist said there is a vehicle that has 100 million lines of code baked into its systems.

But after much hype and hoopla, automakers are tapping the brakes on autonomous vehicles. “Nothing is self-driving now, that is a misnomer,” Jacobs says. “Even the most advanced systems require that a person does something.”