Sony is now on its fifth year of showing off its upcoming electric car in its CES press conferences, which we learned last year will be named AFEELA and is planned hit the market in 2026.
This year, the press conference focused on Sony’s software plans for its new vehicle – along with a heap of the latest buzzwords, mostly to do with AI.
To recap, the AFEELA concept was originally stated to have 400kW (536hp) dual-motor all-wheel-drive, 0-100km/h (0-62mph) in 4.8 seconds, and a top speed of 240km/h (149mph). As far as we’re aware, those are still the specs Sony is aiming for. We still have no information on price or battery size, but we do have two more years until this car hits the road, so price will surely come later.
Sony is focusing on its electronics expertise by highlighting the car’s sensing and infotainment systems. Like just about every electric car coming out these days, the AFEELA will have a wide array of sensors for potential autonomous driving tasks.
And inside the car, Sony thinks that it can provide better infotainment due to its experience in consumer entertainment. It wants to implement continuous over-the-air software updates, and has shown interior photos of large displays in both the front and back seats, seeming to indicate that there could be PS5-level performance available for gaming tasks in the car (potentially giving Tesla a run for its money in the $100,000 gaming device market).
But lest we think this is just an electronics company putting up a pipe dream of a product to get more eyes on their CES conference presentation, Sony has taken steps to show that its serious about building this car. It has already partnered with Honda to form Sony Honda Mobility, Inc. Interestingly, Sony got top billing in the partnership, rather than Honda – perhaps a reflection of the Japanese automaker’s hesitance towards anything EV.
New details on the AFEELA – or not
In today’s press conference, Sony brought Honda CEO Toshihiro Mibe on stage to talk about the partnership and how mobility is going through a “once in 100 year” transformation” – though in his speech, he didn’t use the word “electric” once.
Then Yasuhide Mizuno, CEO of Sony Honda Mobility Inc., came on stage to talk about the in-car software experience. He started off by showing the car’s software-defined nature by… driving the car onto stage with a PS5 controller.
But don’t get too excited – he stated that this was “for the purpose of stage showcase only.”
Nevertheless, what the demonstration shows is that cars are becoming more defined by software, rather than hardware. With software having deep control of vehicle functions, over-the-air updates can change several characteristics of the drive experience, and can improve vehicles over time.
But it also means that these vehicles can have software problems, perhaps moreso than vehicles used to experienced before they were so software-driven.
Sony says that the software-defined nature of the car will turn the car into a “digital playground” for creators to invent new in-car experiences. It showed an example game that renders a vehicle in a mock world alongside escaped godzilla-like monsters, which you can get points for catching.
It also said it wants to “foster a creative community between users and creators” with “access to vehicle data” in order to “realize unique ideas.” Which frankly sounds a little Orwellian, not particularly helped by the fact that it then brought “Big Brother” Microsoft on stage to announce a partnership that… had something (?) to do with AI. Frankly, I blanked out a bit during this part, because I’ve heard enough AI buzzwords this year.
And then Sony closed up the press conference, without any new details on price, battery, the SUV version which appeared two years ago and hasn’t since, or a reiteration of the previously-announced 2026 availability.
Here’s a replay of the full conference (AFEELA presentation starts at 34:23):
When Sony originally surprised everyone with a concept EV in 2020, we thought it was a bit crazy that everyone seemed to be showing off concept EVs now. We’ve seen lots of concept EVs over the years, with varying levels of seriousness.
Sony’s could have been another one of the less-serious ones… but it wasn’t. It looked relatively refined and reasonable and didn’t make as many outlandish claims as some others might have.
At the time, we thought there was actually a decent chance this might happen, and each year since then, Sony has inched a step closer to actually releasing this car. Between the original concept, some on-road testing, an SUV variant (which now has only been shown once, and been absent two years straight), its partnership with Honda, and a product name and production date (with reasonable timeline – at least 7 years after development started on the car), there’s more progress each time we hear about this car.
Of course – by the time this car comes out, they will have talked about it in seven straight CES conferences, if this trend holds. Sure building a car is a huge change for a company that has focused on consumer electronics, but at this point they’re milking this concept for all its worth. I know I just praised them for taking their time with it, and that praise holds, and I’m glad we’re getting updates and all… but that’s still a lot of press conferences for one car.
In contrast, another consumer electronics company that has been rumored to be developing a car, Apple, has never talked about it publicly. Personally I’ve always thought that getting into cars would be an unwise move for Apple (recall Tim Cook’s famous “all of Apple’s products can fit on this one table” presentation) and am therefore skeptical that this will ever happen, but it’s definitely a contrast in press strategy from Sony’s approach.
And that was perhaps particularly apparent this year. While each previous presentation has included meaningful new information beyond the previous year’s, this one seemed like fluff to me. The tech buzzword of the last year has been AI, and every company wants to somehow attach their image to that of AI, hoping to do as well as, say, NVDA has.
So I’m a little disappointed in this specific press conference. Going into it, I didn’t expect much, since Sony has already shown off the car so many times and, frankly, it doesn’t need to show it off seven times before it comes out.
But the AI stuff just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It’s a car, tell us how it’s going to function as a car. Don’t just blow buzzwords at us.
Yes, being software-defined is neat and enables new experiences, and can even make a car better over time (I’ve seen this with my early Tesla Model 3, which is a better car today than it was when I first took delivery). It potentially unshackles us from the previous yearly update cycle which has encouraged overconsumption of vehicles for more than half a century.
But hunting dinosaurs in your car and letting creators spy on your vehicle data is just weird. So lets focus on the car, instead of trying to be another “EV for gamers” (and this is coming from a person who plays entirely too many video games).
Regardless, we’re still really looking forward to trying this thing out when it’s ready. Hopefully next year – since that will be Sony’s last opportunity before its planned 2025 preorder availability for a 2026 model year release.
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