Sony Begins Road-Testing Vision-S Electric Car Prototype

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Sony introduced its first car, the Vision-S, as a futuristic prototype at CES 2020. Many tech companies talk about branching out into the automotive industry, but Sony stepped in quietly and without notice, beating even Apple to the punch. Not one to rest on its laurels, it has started putting the electric sedan through its paces in Europe.

Building a concept car is difficult and expensive, but making one that runs, drives, stops, and can be legally driven on European roads increases the challenge exponentially. Sony didn’t choose the easiest location in which to begin testing the Vision-S on public roads, either. It let the prototype loose in Austria, so test drivers need to deal with narrow mountain roads, headlight-high snow, and freezing temperatures that take a big toll on the car’s systems.

You’d assume Sony would test the Vision-S in Japan, its home country, but it launched the process in the heart of the Alps because it’s working with Graz, Austria-based Magna Steyr, one of the world’s largest contract manufacturers and engineering firms. It also enlisted the help of Bosch and Valeo, among others, to achieve its car-building goals.

Visually, it doesn’t look like the Vision-S has changed much since its Las Vegas introduction, but a lot has evolved under the sheet metal. Engineers increased the number of sensors to 40, according to Izumi Kawnishi, the senior vice president of the company’s AI Robotics business group. They also improved the car’s networking capabilities. No mention was made about whether the powertrain — which is entirely electric — has evolved in the past year.

Similarly, Sony hasn’t revealed precisely what’s next for the Vision-S, but the huge amount of effort it’s putting into fine-tuning the prototype strongly suggests it’s serious about entering the automotive industry sooner rather than later. What remains to be seen is whether it will plant its stake in the supplier field to rival companies like Harman, or if it will aim to earn a spot at the carmaker table next to companies like Ford, General Motors, and Tesla.

Magna Steyr already knows the Vision-S inside and out, helping Sony make it a reality, so it could handle manufacturing if the sedan receives the proverbial green light for production. It currently builds the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the Toyota Supra, and the BMW Z4. What’s certain is that the project isn’t stopping here. Sony pointed out it wants to improve the infotainment system, notably by adding new entertainment features.

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