BMW is promising a talking car, the electronics giant Sony is preparing its attack on the top dogs with a new brand name: the change in the automotive industry is driving competition in new directions. Digitization turns the car into a computer on wheels – and the focus on artificial intelligence and digital services instead of horsepower determines the future.

BMW offered a lavish show at the opening of the CES technology trade fair in Las Vegas on Thursday night: a short film with Arnold Schwarzenegger and David Hasselhoff, the “Terminator” actor and the legendary Hollywood cars Herbie and KITT live on stage. Then there was the demonstration of how a car can change color at will. A year ago, BMW showed a car clad with e-ink cells in Las Vegas, which could only switch between white and a slightly greyish black.

The important innovations in the electric sedan “BMW i Vision Dee” are in the interior. In addition to the speaking software, which is also intended to show emotions, the absence of the usual screens in the cockpit is noticeable. Instead, the entire windshield is to become a widescreen display. The speedometer, navigation system and all other information are shown on the windscreen via a head-up display. And you can choose whether only some information is displayed – or whether entire digital worlds should be mixed with the real environment.

The technology will come from 2025 in the model generation that BMW calls “New Class”, announced CEO Oliver Zipse. “It’s more than a vision,” he assured. The interior of the vehicle seems spartan: There are no door handles, dashboard, temperature controls, switches, buttons. The central control element is a sensor system on the surface where the dashboard is in today’s cars. The driver decides what information he wants to see on the windscreen by speaking or waving his hand. When the car is stationary, he can hide reality with the help of dimmable windows.

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The show with film and TV cars also had a deeper meaning: The VW Beetle Herbie and Hasselhoff’s intelligent sports car Kitt from the “Knight Rider” series stand for machines with feelings. Schwarzenegger, on the other hand, not only recently appeared prominently as the god Zeus in a BMW commercial, but also embodied a robot with the “Terminator”. Ultimately, the car as a “companion” thanks to intelligent software is the vision of the future that Zipse is trying to sell in Las Vegas.

The car industry has been concerned for years that tech giants such as Apple and Google, with their supremacy in smartphone platforms, could also take over the key position in vehicles over time. In particular, some manufacturers consider Apple’s Carplay and Google’s Android Auto, which bring familiar smartphone operation from the cell phone to the cockpit, as potentially the Trojan horse of the online giants. Because it is becoming apparent that large parts of the future business will be brought in via digital services instead of car sales. It is no coincidence that BMW experimented with automatic dimming as a paid subscription.

Zipse was defiant in the face of new rivalries. It’s not about who has the bigger screens, the strongest computing power, or who writes the most software code. What counts is how the customers experience the car and how it responds to them personally. A side effect of BMW’s cockpit without displays would also be that the digital giants would not get their own interface.

Shortly before, there was much less pomp at Sony than at BMW. CEO Kenichiro Yoshida had a prototype rolled out quite objectively – for the third time in Las Vegas. Sony is now working on it in a joint venture with the car manufacturer Honda. And the two partners left no doubt that they mean business. In the run-up to the market launch scheduled for 2026, there is a separate brand name: Afeela.

Among other things, Sony wants to play to the strengths of artificial intelligence, entertainment and camera sensors at Afeela, said the head of Sony Honda Mobility, Yasuhide Mizuno. The new vehicle is based on the design of the two previous Sony prototypes, but is more reminiscent of a Porsche than before, for example in the rear section. The car is to have 45 cameras and other sensors, including for automated driving functions. An unusual detail is a display between the front headlights that can show information to people in front of the car.

Unlike the BMW concept, the dashboard is completely filled with screens. Sony, which is in the video game business with the Playstation and also has a music company and a Hollywood studio, wants to provide entertainment in the car.

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