For companies that exist to build cars, automakers sure like to parade around non-working mockups with the promise they’ll one day be drivable. How ironic is it that when Sony, a major tech company, decided to bring a car to the Consumer Electronics Show last year, it brought one that ran.
January 7 will mark a year since Sony unveiled its Vision-S prototype to the world. Last year, I happened to be at CES, and I can tell you the Vision-S’ reveal was a bit of a surprise on the show floor. CES is slowly transforming into more of an auto show as it is, and while there’s no shortage of overhyped startups that inevitably fizzle out or flashes of life from the automotive old guard desperate to appear hip and forward-thinking, there was certainly something different about Sony’s approach.
First, absolutely nobody seemed to know the Vision-S was coming. Watching the press conference, there’s hardly any preamble and certainly no sizzle reel; the speaker says a few words about deepening Sony’s contribution to the automotive sector, and then the lights go dim and a car appears.
Apple has been publicly playing chicken with the prospect of building cars for the better part of a decade. Dyson — yes, the vacuum cleaner folks — abandoned its plan, while Google flirted with the idea before deciding to stuff Waymo tech in Chrysler Pacificas. All the while, Sony said nothing and just went ahead and did the damn thing.
Of course, it wasn’t all Sony’s doing; the company joined forces with Magna Steyr and Bosch as manufacturing and supplier partners. This brings me to the other reason I’m still thinking about the Sony car: It actually works.
After CES wrapped up, Sony took the Vision-S back to Magna Steyr’s factory in Austria to get it ready for eventual public road testing. In August, the prototype was shipped back to Tokyo, so Sony could develop its “sensing and audio technologies” further. I remind you, this is a car that Sony is not intending to mass-produce, though it’s still treating the project as if it was.
In a way, the Vision-S is a production vehicle, though. While you’ll likely never drive it as you see it, this car serves as a testbed for Sony’s various safety, assisted driving and in-car entertainment technologies that will ultimately find their way into vehicles you can buy. There’s something remarkably refreshing about the ambition to build a whole car just because you also make lots of parts that go in cars, and want to better understand how they come together.
That mentality is part of Sony’s ethos. For whatever reason in my warped brain, Sony has always reminded me a lot of Honda. On the surface, it might have something to do with the fact both their logos use heavy, wide serif fonts, but if I had to dig deeper, it’s probably because both companies are built on principles of engineering and design simplicity. They don’t always live up to the ideals they strive for, mind you, and the strength of their conviction sometimes leads them down vanity project rabbit holes (re: everything about the PlayStation 3, or in Honda’s case, Asimo). But the shared enthusiasm for crafting functional-yet-beautiful things makes them kindred spirits, at least in my headcanon.
Sony has the mentality automakers should have. It builds honest tech, typically without the blind hype that dominates the tech realm. I think that’s present in the Vision-S’ design, too. Sure, it’s not the most distinctive sedan in the world, pulling cues from all over the place; I detect some Taycan in the cinched profile, a dash of Audi A7 Sportback in the rear deck treatment and maybe just a hint of Tesla in the headlights. Still, I’m attracted to the overall result. It’s cohesive, elegant and understated, and the insignia Sony whipped up just for this car is a natural replacement for those obsolete faux grilles on EVs that automakers ought to give up already.
All this is to say I’m still on board with the Sony car — whether they make another one or not. And if they don’t, I look forward to reading about its latest adventures every six months.