Here are the top car stories at CES 2019

Though many come for the insane TV tech, smart appliances and cute robots, CES 2019 is also the first major car show of the year. 

Transportation and mobility steals a little bit more of the show every year with more vehicle debuts, more crazy concepts and more tech finding its way into the cars. To bring you up to speed, here’s a quick roundup of the best automotive news we’ve seen here in Las Vegas. 

New vehicle debuts

CES saw the debut of the long-awaited, long-range version of Nissan’s Leaf EV. The 2019 Leaf E+ tweaks the world’s best-selling electric car formula with a larger battery pack that bumps its range to about 226 miles, a significant boost over the current model.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz debuted its coupe-y, swoopy 2020 CLA-Class in Las Vegas this week. The compact sedan is packed with style, but bursting at the seams with tech, including Benz’s MBUX connected infotainment system and a healthy dose of driver aid technologies. (A bit of a power bump over the A-Class doesn’t hurt, either.)

Electric car startup Byton only debuted part of the production version of its M-Byte electric SUV, but it’s arguably the most exciting and contentious part. The M-Byte production cockpit features a massive 48-inch screen — that’s as large as seven iPads — and a touchscreen in the center of the steering wheel. We expect to see the rest of the car later this year.

The concepts of tomorrow

Forward-looking CES had no shortage of interesting concept cars, a few of which we’ve already seen before. Mercedes-Benz’s Vision Urbanetic concept made its North American debut on the Las Vegas Strip. Roadshow was there to take it for a spin — or rather, be taken for a spin in this autonomous car.

Uber talked quite a bit about its plans for flying taxis at its Elevate conference series in 2018. CES 2019 gave many their first in-person look at what to expect from that with the Bell Nexus flying taxi concept. It looks a bit like a big ol’ drone with seating for four passengers and a pilot and it could be taking to the air for test flights in early 2020.

I’ve saved the “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads” reference for perhaps the weirdest concept at the show. Hyundai’s Elevate concept is an electric emergency response vehicle with legs between its body and wheels. Able to transition between driving and walking modes, it’s a crazy future ambulance that can scramble over rocky terrain like some kind of lizard car. 

Reimagining the cockpit

Ten years ago, CES’ automotive hall was all about speakers and stereos, but 2019 sees automakers and media providers completely reimagining what entertainment in car looks like.

Audi collaborated with Disney on a project called Holoride, a VR experience for passengers that brings games and movies along for the ride. Meanwhile, Intel and WB’s AR cockpit is an augmented reality autonomous car experience that takes riders on a virtual tour of Batman’s Gotham City.

Speaking of augmented reality, suppliers like WayRay and Valeo are busy working on ways to bring AR tech to the cars of today. Valeo’s XtraVue invisible towing system uses cameras to make a towed trailer appear transparent when viewed through an in-car display. Meanwhile, WayRay’s massive head-up display tech enables AR data to be overlaid on to a vehicle’s windshield.

A different side of autonomous tech

The lion’s share of CES 2019’s car-related news fell to autonomous and semiautonomous technologies that aim to make tomorrow’s vehicles safer. The flashiest was BMW’s self-riding motorbike, which was able to steer itself around the convention center’s lot without falling over.

We also saw how autonomy will affect the trucking and logistics industries. Freightlinershowed off a Level 2 semiautonomous trailer cab that brings many of the modern advanced driver aid features from passenger cars to semi trucks.

At a smaller scale, startup Udelv debuted its second-generation autonomous delivery truck. The Udelv Newton has a longer range and is more flexible than the Udelv’s previous truck and will be hitting the road this year as part of pilot delivery programs with Walmart in Arizona and XL Parts in Texas.

And that’s just scratching the surface. There’s so much more to discover in our coverage of CES 2019 and more to come as we wrap up our coverage of the big show and roll straight into the Detroit Auto Show next week. 

CES 2019: See all of CNET’s coverage of the year’s biggest tech show.

TVs of CES: Huge 8K screens and insane roll-up OLEDs.