Japanese entertainment behemoth Sony has added a new division to its stable of electronics, music, pictures, and financial services – cars. At the recently concluded CES 2022 held in Las Vegas, Sony signaled its intention of entering the electric vehicle (EV) market by unveiling its second all-electric prototype. The Vision-S 02 electric SUV concept follows in the tracks of the Vision-S 01 electric sedan, which made its debut at CES 2020. And if that isn’t enough indication that Sony is serious about its automotive ambitions, it also announced that it would be setting up a dedicated mobility company – Sony Mobility Inc. – to push forward on its EV commercialization agenda.
Automated Mobility with Focus on Occupant Engagement and Entertainment Focus
According to Sony, the cornerstones of Vision S will be safety and security, adaptability, and entertainment. They will be geared towards promoting “the accommodation of a large variety of lifestyles within a society where values are becoming increasingly diversified.”
Accordingly, the new electric SUV prototype has 40 sensors that include LiDAR, Radar, Ultrasonic sensors, and Sony’s proprietary CMOS image sensors at the heart of it. These are placed inside and outside the car, offering real-time recognition and analysis of the surrounding environment. This is the largest quantity of perception sensors to be used in any vehicle. The sensor suite strategy of Sony Vision-S is designed to promote safety and security at L2+ Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), creating a pathway to achieve level 4 automated driving through over-the-air software. Enhanced driver-vehicle interaction and usability will be helped by Time-of-Flight (ToF) image sensors that will underpin voice, lip-reading, and gesture capability. Personalization will be a key objective: users will be able to choose their preferred display theme, and user/vehicle settings can be harmonized through cloud-based mobile communication (including 5G). Over-the-air (OTA) updates mean that value enhancements will be continuous and seamless.
With Sony, the big question is their ability to redefine in-vehicle entertainment. After all, this company co-owns the Bond franchise and has tasted success with the Spiderman movies, works with musical artists like Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Styles, and owns the PlayStation® brand. We are happy to note that Sony has delivered in spades on this score. A “360 Reality Audio” system and three-dimensional sound that integrates with smart devices are geared to support an immersive audio experience. In contrast, a fully integrated digital video service – “Bravia Core for Vision-S” – enables a top-notch movie-watching experience. From a panoramic front screen to individual displays in the rear seats, the idea is to deliver an unmatched mobility entertainment experience. One can’t think of Sony without a nod to its virtuosity in the gaming arena. The Vision-S will support the ability to connect remotely to a PlayStation® console at home and allow passengers to play streaming games via the cloud.
Sony’s Entry into Lucrative Market
The EV market has been booming, and Sony’s diversification into this domain highlights its recognition that this is a highly lucrative market. With the formation of its new EV-focused mobility division, Sony joins a long list of companies – Foxconn and Xiaomi, among them – better known for their work in the consumer electronics space. Speculation has also been rife about Apple developing a self-driving EV under its Project Titan initiative and having it ready for launch in 2024 or later.
As a new entrant, it will be competing in a market teeming with EV manufacturers, including Tesla, Nio, Lucid, Rivian, XPeng, and Fisker. It will also be facing off against legacy automakers who, almost without exception, are switching their focus from ICEs to EVs. In short, Sony will be entering a market where already intense competition is only set to get more intense.
Competition aside, there will be multiple challenges on the road ahead. While Sony can excel in the semiconductor and entertainment tech space, there is the challenge of bringing together sensor technology along with in-vehicle infotainment all into one vehicle – essentially the complex process of putting a high-quality EV on the road. There is the investment challenge of building the manufacturing facilities required to scale up production for effective commercialization. Will Sony have the resources and resolution to withstand the kinds of losses that Tesla racked up before it turned a corner? And finally, there is the regulatory challenge in terms of meeting stringent safety requirements.
On the other hand, Sony has amply demonstrated with Vision-S 01, and Vision-S 02 is how far and fast it has worked to develop and enhance its automotive technology.
In short, Sony Mobility Inc. has its work cut out. Only time will tell whether its automotive gamble will pay off.
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