Sony’s Electric Car Now Road Testing In Austria

The Consumer Electronics Show was not typically a place for concept cars, and Sony aren’t known as a major automaker. However, times change, and the electric transport revolution has changed much. At the famous trade show, Sony shocked many by revealing its Vision-S concept — a running, driving, prototype electric car.

Far from a simple mockup to show off in-car entertainment or new fancy cameras, Sony’s entry into the automotive world is surprisingly complete. Recently, the Japanese tech giant has been spotted testing the vehicle on the road in Austria, raising questions about the future of the project. Let’s dive in to what Sony has shown off, and what it means for the potential of the Vision-S.

Plenty of Swish Features

The Vision-S prototype boasts twin motors, one front and one rear, each delivering up to 200 kW at peak power. Combined with a roughly 2300 kg kerb weight and a reported 4.8 second zero-to-60 mph time suggest performance on par with Tesla’s Model 3. Interestingly, the company has kept its cards close to its chest regarding range or any specifications on the battery. Presumably, the battery pack uses cells of Sony’s own manufacture.

The interior features wall-to-wall screens, as is the current trend. There are four bucket seats for the passengers. as the classical rear bench seems to be going out of style along with declining birth rates in the developed world.

The vehicle is advanced inside and out, packing a suite of 40 sensors including CMOS cameras, LIDARs, ultrasonic sensors, and radar. With this package, Sony hope to enable the vehicle to deliver level 2 autonomy – wherein the vehicle can hold its speed and lane with driver supervision, akin to Telsa’s AutoPilot system. The goal is to eventually reach Level 4 autonomy, with the vehicle able to fully drive itself in select areas.

Much attention is paid to the in-car entertainment, which is unsurprising given Sony’s history in this space. Features include screens spanning the full width of the dashboard, as well as further displays for rear seat passengers. Each seat also gets its own set of speakers, which are intended to enable each passenger to listen to their own choice of content. One notable inclusion is that Sony aim for seamless transfer of audio from a driver’s smartphone earbuds to the car’s speakers when entering the car. Not a game changer, by any means, but something that highlights the seamless experience the company is going for.

Prototype or Production-Ready?

Magna-Steyr are well established contract manufacturer in the automotive industry, bringing much needed engineering experience to the project.

Sony has been working on the vehicle in concert with Magna-Steyr, a contract manufacturer of automobiles based in Graz, Austria. Currently, the company is producing a range of vehicles, from the combustion-engined Mercedes G-Class to the hybrid BMW 5-series and fully-electric Jaguar I-Pace. The collaboration has lent great credibility to the project, with the company’s long experience in automotive production serving as a base for Sony’s technological exploration.

Unlike the Apple Car, around which rumors have swirled for years with no real product spotted, Sony’s Vision-S appeared on the CES stage fully formed in 2020 before further details came to light this year. However, doubts remain as to whether the car will enter production or public sale. Sony are not established as an automotive brand, with no dealership or parts network around the world. Additionally, building a prototype is a far cry from getting a vehicle approved for sale in multiple jurisdictions around the world, which requires extensive testing, often destructive. The upfront costs for delivering a car to market are prohibitively expensive; as a particularly poignant example, Tesla took well over a decade to reach sustainable profitability.

Exterior shots on the Sony website feature different colors – by name – suggesting some thought has been given to marketing the car.

It’s also difficult to see how well the Vision-S could fit into the marketplace. It’s unlikely Sony has automotive battery technology on par with Tesla’s latest innovations, let alone the factories required to produce them en masse for vehicles which require an incredible number of cells compared to the average consumer device.

Production plays a part, too. Magna-Steyr’s output is on the order of 200,000 cars a year, which is already split between several existing models and is unlikely to have much capacity to greatly expand that number for Sony. For contrast, Tesla built almost 500,000 cars in 2020 — 140,000 of which were the Model 3. Sony needs economies of scale to balance price and performance. Without a lot of hype or brand cachet in the automotive world, it’s a scary proposition to bet millions, if not billions, of dollars on.

A Rolling Testbed?

It’s perhaps likely that the project is instead Sony’s effort to invest in automotive technology. The Vision-S could instead serve as a testbed for Sony’s image sensors, LIDARs, and other technologies which it hopes to sell to existing automakers. By building their own vehicle which is representative of future market trends, they have a perfect engineering platform with which to experiment with. This is particularly useful when it comes down to the tricky engineering of actually integrating advanced hardware into a vehicle. Anyone can throw a bunch of expensive, off-the-shelf sensors on a roof pod and drive around with it; to create something practical, attractive, and cost-effective is a far harder task.

The car came as a shock to many; unlike projects at Apple and Google, there was little hype or expectation for a Sony car to exist. One wonders if a little more hype earlier on could have been useful to build market interest. The company’s website leaves things open to interpretation, stating that “This content and prototype vehicle are intended to illustrate our future concepts in the area of mobility.” It’s hard to bet on the project’s outcome either way, with the concept both seeming too polished for an internal engineering project, yet too poorly positioned to truly compete in the marketplace. It could even be the case that the project gets packaged up and sold wholesale to an existing automaker, with a new set of badges to hide its origins. Given several automakers like Mazda and Subaru are yet to show any serious efforts towards electrification, it could be the way to go. Regardless, we look forward to the next stage of development for this sleek and compelling vehicle — and wait with baited breath to see the impact it makes on the marketplace.

73 thoughts on “Sony’s Electric Car Now Road Testing In Austria

  1. “One notable inclusion is that Sony aim for seamless transfer of audio from a driver’s smartphone earbuds to the car’s speakers when entering the car.”

    So they’re gonna rootkit your phone?

    1. Rootkit your device? Sony would never do that!….again….riight?

      I wonder if they’ll include new DRM – Driving Rights Management to restrict how many different drivers the car can have.

    1. I mean I’d be stoked if I got 100mile range out of my junkyard conversion that I threw together for under $2000, but they’re likely going to be asking a wee bit more than that.

    2. What about 250-300 miles of range and recharging in minutes instead of hours? My wife’s granddad has a car that can do it and it was made in 1970’s. One downside: that particular model is beloved by rust with great passion…

  2. ” Anyone can throw a bunch of expensive, off-the-shelf sensors on a roof pod and drive around with it; to create something practical, attractive, and cost-effective is a far harder task.”

    Sounds like the AR market. Right Magic Leap and Apple?

    1. On what planet does two dozen incandescent bulbs use less power than an LED backlight? Yes indeed there must be at least twenty or thirty of those tiny little bulbs inside the instrument panel. Each and every one of them gets hot enough to burn my fingers. Holy cow those bulbs probably use more juice than the radio cranked full blast.

      1. Many analog weren’t lit unless you have your headlamps on, so if you only drove much in daylight it would be zero versus needing to have them powered all the while the ignition is on.

    1. They’ll be all… Compose your mix tape from our exclusive Sony Music Entertainment catalog and save it in Sony High Definition audio on a Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo HX, which when inserted into the dash will verify the digital signatures of the content before connecting to the Sony Erikson mobile music experience where over cellular data a vehicle optimised and acoustically enhanced version of your selected tracks may be streamed for the low price of 65 cents a minute.

  3. > as a particularly poignant example, Tesla took well over a decade to reach sustainable profitability.

    That’s mostly because Tesla was trying to run before they could walk. Tesla’s failure to turn up profit is a direct result of the fundamental technology not being mature enough to reach the goals and promises set by Elon Musk, therefore being unable to reach the manufacturing costs necessary to make the sales.

    The other reason is that Elon Musk’s likely original strategy was to pump up hype and then sell the company to some big manufacturer like he had done with his previous dot-com ventures. Since the buyers didn’t take the bait, he was left with a company with no viable product and no R&D of their own to make it happen.

    The EV market is a waiting game to see when exactly the researchers come up with a battery that actually cashes in on the promises and hype made over the past 20-30 years.

    1. I’d say the living up to the hype is a stupid expectation – nothing does that.
      But practical, and beneficial to the user has long been achieved, heck you can argue it was achieved with lead acid battery EV’s in the 90’s, for some users. EV’s as they stand still don’t suit everyone, but they are by far the cheapest way to travel further than you can walk, with ranges that around Europe at least you won’t find it hard to get where you are going.
      And even in larger nations with vaster gaps between cities they are perfect for many drivers as most people don’t commute 150+miles each way.. Or regularly need to travel further than that for any reason…

      The only big downside is charging options for those that live in places without their own parking spot, but I understand most residents of cities where that is common don’t own a car of any sort… The rest of the population for which that is true will have to wait for other EV power methods like Hydrogen, or for charging options to be available where ever they would park their car should they wish to go EV – not exactly a big deal, they loose out on cheaper transport now, which is no different to not getting the 3/4/5 G mobile data options in your area yet…

      1. Ideally in congested cities, offices/workplaces, supermarkets, shopping plazas, and parking lots near restaurant/entertainment districts would all have EV charging stations so you could at least be topping off at your DESTINATION if you can’t charge at home.

        I live in a progressive Southern California beach town, and I am surprised at how few charging stations we have. With property values being what they are, most people under 40 rent – yet I have seen very few apartment complexes and zero rental homes offering EV charging. Also, we get a lot of tourists coming up from Los Angeles on weekends, yet we have very few hotels or public lots with EV chargers. It baffles me, as I cant imagine the chargers cost much, and I’m assuming the user charging cost rate could be set in a way that would pay off the chargers/install costs very quickly while still providing reasonably economic charging for the end users – especially for those that don’t do a ton of driving. Its crazy to me that we have a Tesla dealership but virtually no HOME CHARGING options for non-homeowners as well as such limited DESTINATION CHARGING options around town.

          1. Tesla and CHAdeMO

            But it’s not that simple. There are differences within the standards, such as AC and DC power from the same plug, at different voltage levels and currents, and with the charge controller in the car. Just because you can fit the plug doesn’t mean you get fast charging.

            And, the chargers themselves vary. One may offer 120 kW to a single car, but 45 kW to two cars if both happen to be charging at the same time, etc. depending on how the charger is wired up to the property mains, and the property to the grid mains.

        1. It’s not just a matter of installing an outlet – the whole electrical system of the building and its adjacent property has to be upgraded to support the extra power drain, because a small parking lot of EVs even on Level 1 chargers can double the demand of the building.

          1. And then, when the whole street of houses upgrades, the power company has to upgrade the connection to the street with bigger wires and distribution transformers, and the whole thing kinda ripples upstream from there.

            So when the property owners come around asking what it costs to have these charging outlets, the answer is: “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

          2. Really depends on how you do it – EV’s can be used while ‘charging’ as grid levelling tools, and only draw power when they are actually charging as well – so you don’t need to upgrade the infrastructure to support every possible EV parking spot and entire power station output that demand would be – many of them will be already be ‘full’ and can support the local grid when excess demand turns up by discharging a few miles worth.

            As long as you don’t expect every home charger to instantly be in superfast refill fully mode as everyone comes home around the normal work hours times and plugs in the extra demand on the grid is small – maybe even non-existent, a gradual charge during the day with faster overnight when there is the inevitably surplus and you probably don’t need to upgrade the grid at all (would be a good idea though).

          3. Irrelevant. You still need to upgrade the building power cabling, junction boxes etc. to support the amount of current you could draw. It’s a matter of code and regulations. If you have charging outlets on a parking lot, the cabling to the lot must support all those outlets. Otherwise you may draw more current than the cables can supply, and the wiring starts to limit the current and the breakers won’t trip.

            Even when you follow the minimum safety requirements, that still doesn’t mean the cabling is rated for continuous operation. The cabling can overheat if everyone’s charging, and indeed when you have these kind of power outlets in a parking lot for defrosting cars in the morning, they’re typically put on a timed rotation switch that only gives each one some 10-15 minutes of power in a staggered fashion.

          4. Not at all Irrelevant – these chargers have smarts, they can and often are set to only take in power at the cheapest times, at a rate etc – SO the cabling only has to be able to supply the load they are set to max out at, the parking lot full of them can actively control their draw! In the same way your domestic circuits are all (or should all be) fused RCD’d such that they can’t exceed spec of the ring main in your walls to prevent any danger, except here the load can and will dynamically control itself to match the available supply.

            Obviously if you can supply fat enough pipes to charge every possible slot at the maximum rate it would let the chargers run at that rate, and that could be useful. But as long as you can supply sufficient to actually charge ’em up at all – i.e there is some budget left in the existing infrastructure you don’t have to.

            Also as the charger and cars have smarts they can on the parking lot themselves negotiate and balance their own charges such that a car running empty can be fast charged up to a sane level even if the local grid can’t supply it at the time by draining a tiny fraction out of each of the other cars in the lot – distributed like across many cars that nobody is going to miss the range lost, its not going to cost them anything (heck they might even get credited at a better rate too).

          5. >In the same way your domestic circuits are all (or should all be) fused RCD’d such that they can’t exceed spec of the ring main in your walls

            That’s only legal in the UK, and only because it’s grandfathered in, and because you then have separate fuses with each socket and cable. Elsewhere you have to size your wiring so that a short in one outlet can draw enough current to trip the branch breaker at the switch box.

            For the electric company, and as far as the law is concerned, there are no smart devices. Suppose the parking lot got flooded and all the chargers are now in fault mode, internal shorts and throwing plasma arcs around?

          6. >the parking lot full of them can actively control their draw

            Also, that’s highly annoying. You can’t predict how long it will take to charge up, because the power is limited and shared between users. If the parking lot is empty, it could be 45 minutes, or if there’s ten cars in already it’s 7½ hours for the same effect – and that’s no good. People have places to go and schedules to meet.

          7. Plus, EVs can’t charge arbitrarily slowly. The charger has idle losses, there’s battery heaters to keep it above 0 C, pumps and fans to keep it below 40 C, etc. which is several hundred Watts. Some VW electrics can’t even charge out of a regular (230 V EU) socket that’s wired for 6 Amps, it has to be 10 or 16 amps because of the minimum current draw. Otherwise it’s just gonna sit there spinning its fans and do nothing.

      2. > they are by far the cheapest way to travel further than you can walk

        A bicycle comes to mind. There are many modes of transport that are cheaper than an electric car, but as far as cars go:

        The cost per mile of a $35,000 EV on the price alone up to 160,000 miles is about 22 cents per mile. Electricity at 20 cents/kWh puts that up to 25 cents. Maintenance cost adds another 2-3 cents.

        30 MPG on gasoline at $4 per gallon costs 13 cents. Spend $5,000 on a second hand car and 5,000 for maintenance over 100,000 miles and you’re at 23 cents per mile. This is why about 70-80% of the market for cars is second and third hand, and why electric cars are still not suitable for most people.

        1. While as a cyclist I can agree it’s a good transit method, I’d not say it really increases your range – just decreases how long it takes to get there – the energy still all has to come from you, and unless you are cycling in ideal conditions for every moment cycling is almost effortless there are the going up long hills that is more fatiguing than walking up them.

          Yes the upfront cost because EV’s is always higher – there isn’t that huge second hand, refurbished market yet. But that doesn’t negate the point on cheapness per mile, like the inability to charge at your own parking spot – its another “sucks to be you” if you are unable to get one yet (which is definitely me). Also remember Europe doesn’t generally have cheap fuel the way Americans are used to – there’s a reason we have smaller, more efficient cars over here as a default…

          1. Cycling at a moderate rate takes about the same physical effort as walking, but it’s four times faster. The limit of how far you can travel in a day is limited by how long you can sustain the effort before you get tired or bored, so regardless of which limit comes up first, you go about four times the distance on a bike.

            And there won’t be a huge refurbished second hand market for EVs because the battery costs more than the car. The rule of thumb for a replacement battery based on manufacturing economics is about a third of the price of the new car.

          2. We haven’t had mass made EV’s like this long enough to really know what the refurbished second had market will look like.
            Yes a battery change is expensive – but so is changing a head gasket, doing an engine swap etc, all things garages and car sellers do because they have mechanics on payroll and no paying customer for every hour of every working day. Dad’s last car he part-ex’d when the gasket failed as it wasn’t worth the cost to repair (and with changing circumstances didn’t need the big 7 seater any more) but ironically when he went to pick up his ‘new’ car after a service there was his old and the young family that bought it, for a price he couldn’t have had it repaired for. Still made a profit albeit a tiny one for the garage of course, as they would have had to pay the staff anyway.
            Once EV’s are as ubiquitous as ICE and battery re-packers and refurbishes a common thing I’d not be surprised if you can get a second hand EV at the same sort of reduction you get for the second hand ICE now, and even in the near future it should become much more affordable.

            I’d also say you haven’t got real hills round your way if you can’t see a situation when you are not going to go any further on a bike than walking, definitely get there quicker – but your body can only sustain a higher effort level so long, and up some hills the effort level is damn high just to go at a walking pace up them (and that’s with a geared bike – as guess what even with the gearing making it possible its still heavy and you have to lift it up the hill too).

            I used to cycle to a friends up a steep hill with an annoying junction, every time you have to stop on the way up it damn near kills you just getting going again, and it wasn’t exactly easy riding on that hill – its hard enough to walk up the damn thing, let alone dragging a bike. But going to the station or school was just quicker, walking or cycling you arrive feeling fresh and comfortable (weather permitting) as even though you are right and cycling can be more energy efficient, when you are not having to work hard in either case you really won’t feel it. But having to haul all that extra mass of the bike up hills means working potentially much harder, for those sections and that is fatiguing in a way the downhills that usually accompany the ups don’t make up for.

          3. >to really know what the refurbished second had market will look like.

            But we can predict it.

            The economics of manufacturing suggests that a new battery pack will cost around a third of the price of the new car – that’s how the manufacturing costs break down. Therefore, a replacement battery pack for a $35,000 car will be around $10,000. For a $25k car it would be around $8k and so-on.

            A Li-ion battery pack will be good for a calendar life of 10-12 years. It can’t really be “refurbished” because adding new cells in will not be possible due to the different characteristics, and using working old cells from other old batteries is not going to extend the lifespan beyond their shelf life. Old EV batteries are really only good for recycling.

            In other words, the second hand market which deals in cheap old cars that are older than 8-10 years will vanish entirely, because the price of cars in that bracket is well below $10,000. You get more value out of your used car by selling it for scrap, because nobody else will pay you a dime for it.

            There is still the upper second hand market that deals with cars that are 3-4 years old leftovers from rich people swapping their cars like their socks. Those have another 6-8 years of life left in them, so they can fetch a good price on the market, but at the same time the people who buy these cars have no reason to fix them up once the battery goes out, because it costs them the same to just buy another car.

          4. >Yes a battery change is expensive – but so is changing a head gasket, doing an engine swap etc,

            A battery swap is much more expensive, and I haven’t seen many cars that needed an engine swap. A regular car can easily go twice the years and twice the miles on an engine compared to an EV – at least all mine have survived to 25-30 years of age without major overhauls – and I don’t personally know of anyone who had a failed engine before all the rest of it broke down. The reason why all my old cars were scrapped was because they rusted through and the suspensions and joints and brakes wore down to the point that it was not worth fixing anymore – all the engines were perfectly fine.

            Your mileage may vary, if you neglect the car and don’t change the oils and belts etc. regularly.

          5. >I’d also say you haven’t got real hills round your way

            According to the map I have some 40 meters ups and downs between here and downtown. Even if it was somewhat easier to walk up the hills, I wouldn’t go by foot because it just takes too damn long to get there. If I hadn’t the bike, I would take the bus every time.

            And you don’t know cycling until you’ve done it in the snow. Still it’s faster than walking, to the point that I wouldn’t even consider the option.

      3. >around Europe at least you won’t find it hard to get where you are going

        Europe is actually slightly bigger than the US in land area, though it’s a bit more dispersed into islands and hamlets. From Hammerfest Norway to Tarifa in Spain it’s 5,433 kilometers, and even across the continental Europe from Tallinn to Lisbon through Poland, Germany, France and Spain is 4,362 km (2,726 mi)

        When people in the US think about Europe, they think mostly of places like the UK where just about everything interesting is jam-packed within a circle of 200 miles, or individual tourist destinations like Paris and the other big cities, which is like thinking that everyone in the US lives like New York.

        1. Its not the size of Europe that was my point, but that there isn’t the hundreds of miles of nothing much between most places and the next places to stop and charge up yourself and your EV.. – As EV ranges are not getting up to about as far as is remotely sensible in one session.

          1. Think again:


            Europe overall is similar to the US. There’s a high density of contiguous urban development in the middle of the continent roughly centered around Belgium, while the rest is more sparsely populated and dotted with high density cities and towns that are connected by long stretches of highway and winding rural roads.

            The individual towns are more compact than in the US because people are more used to walking to the grocery store than driving there, but the distances between the towns are very similar, because it’s the ability to drive that defines how far apart the people will settle. Fewer people want to live out in the middle because there’s no services there, so the countryside between towns was emptied out after WW2.

            So you might get away with an electric car in Amsterdam or New York, but elsewhere you need something that doesn’t run out of charge, because you start measuring distances by hours instead of kilometers.

          2. If the US really has towns anything like as close together as almost all of Europe then there is no excuse for not being able to use an EV now the range is in the several hundred miles.
            Most of Europe was settled and rather fully developed long before the car even existed – and built up pretty fully – only have to look at the shear number of small thin Roman roadbeds turned into roads etc to see that. And while in many nations – France springs to mind, the countryside is being somewhat abandoned by the young working folk its far from really empty out there.

            The countryside between towns is largely irrelevant as finding a town more than 100 miles from a major city is unusual, and most major cities are that sort of distance apart as a maximum from their nearest neighbouring city across large areas of Europe. Heck in some areas two cities have grown so damn large and close they and the towns they have consumed as they grew basically meet at the edges… Yes there are a few areas more spares than that, but its far from common. Heck most (maybe even all on paper at least) of the capitol cities of Europe I’d say are well within a single re-charge of another capitol city!

            Though what real world driving over those distances pushing the range so hard in an EV would be like, I imagine range anxiety could come in to it in a way it doesn’t when the refill is almost instant and for now at least readily available almost everywhere. Still after the 200 odd mile trip to a good stopping point you can recharge yourself, take a stretch, have a walk and nice cuppa, while the car fast charges for the next leg – which sounds like a winner all round..

          3. >then there is no excuse for not being able to use an EV

            There really isn’t. The population density around the coastal areas where most people live is something between Germany and France. It’s that people simply drive more, and for more reasons, because the services do not extend into the sub-urbs – there’s no small kiosks and vendors in the neighborhoods so people have to drive to town for a pack of cigarettes.

            > in some areas two cities have grown so damn large

            You fall in the trap of thinking that because two cities are joined at the edges, you only need to go 10 miles between city to city. Yes, but where in the city are you going? Your source and your destination may still be hundreds of miles apart, and stopping for a charge in the middle is a major inconvenience, especially when the charging outlets are all limited in speed to manage the mutual power draw, so you never know if you have to stop for 20 minutes or 2 hours.

    1. Why not just list off every car maker because they all make electronic stuff. Did you know that they also bend sheet metal and they can paint stuff? Wow those car makers can really do it all.

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