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CES: New cars and communists

Wed, 11 Jan 2012

The first day of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show featured one new Ford, two new Kias and a plug for communism from the head of Mercedes-Benz.

So, yeah, it was an eventful first day.

After its new 2013 Fusion plug-in hybrid was named Car of the Show--following previous such distinctions for the Focus electric and the Taurus--Ford CEO Alan Mulally pulled the cover off the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Ford promised that the Fusion Energi will return 100 mpg-e when it enters the market this fall. That's only 12 mpg-e less than the Mitsubishi "i" electric car, which is supposed to be the most efficient mass-produced car sold in America at the moment.

Just a couple of stands away, Kia introduced two all-new electric vehicles, the Naimo EV concept and the Ray EV production car. The B-pillarless Naimo shows Kia's future ideas for instrumentation, including a head-up display and a 12.3-inch touch screen. The Soul-like Ray EV went on sale in the Korean market in December with a 15.4-kiowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery powering a 50-kilowatt electric motor tucked under the rear floor. Top speed is listed at 81 mph. While not specifying U.S. sales, Kia did say that the Ray EV would be sold in other markets starting in the 2014 model year. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

There were no shortage of companies at CES willing to charge all of these new EVs, the most interesting of which was Qualcomm, which displayed its new wireless inductive charger. Just park your car over a charge unit embedded in the driveway and the system automatically starts charging your EV through the air, with no wires at all. A trial with up to 50 electric cabs, delivery vehicles and other cars will take place this year in London. Qualcomm execs optimistically predict the price of such systems will drop below that of cable chargers once economies of scale kick in.

We wonder about that claim, considering all of the concrete you'd have to jackhammer and repaste just to embed the chargers in the streets, but we'll dream along with the company since the end product looks promisingly cool. Engineers even said the technology could be embedded in roads to power EVs down the highway.

And the Mercedes pledge in support of communism? During his keynote address, Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche was advocating a new ride-sharing program. He said that such a notion raised cries that the company had gone commie.

"If that's the case, viva la revolucion!" the Benz boss said.

We can't wait to see what happens on the second day of CES.

By Mark Vaughn