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The Year’s Biggest Gadget Conference Is All About Electric Cars Now

Automakers are showing out at CES.

New EVs.
Heatmap Illustration/Kia, Honda, Vinfast, Getty Images

The consumer electronics show in Las Vegas formally known as CES has evolved beyond a showcase for ever-larger screens, laptops, and niche gadgets looking to make it into big box retailers. CES is now, among other things, a full-fledged auto show, with the world's largest automakers announcing ambitious products alongside — and sometimes in partnership with — their tech counterparts.

In recent years, new electric concepts from Chevrolet, BMW, and Ram have each captured attention. This year, it was Honda’s turn to make a splash.

After two decades of dipping its toes into the electric vehicle market, the Japanese carmaker announced the new 0 Series (as in zero emissions) with two concepts that show what Honda wants to bring to the U.S. market in 2026.

The flagship Saloon sedan’s sleek, swept-back design is a material manifestation of what Honda calls its man maximum/machine minimum packaging concept (in case you’re looking for an acronym, it’s M/M*1), which boils down to making the car’s footprint as small as possible while still keeping passengers comfortable. On the other end of the svelte-practical spectrum is the Space-Hub, which applies the venerable minivan concept in an EV format with extra space and seating that swivels to create a rolling lounge.

Honda was also at CES in partnership with Sony, which showed the latest iteration of its Afeela prototype, the electronics company's first foray into the automotive world. Sony's Playstation division clearly got its hands on the concept, which means augmented reality displays built on the game development platform Unreal Engine that feature eye-popping 3D graphics. If you want, you can have a monster magically appear on the roadway as you’re driving. You can also visualize yourself driving underwater. On stage at least, the car could be steered with a Playstation controller.

Kia was back in Las Vegas to announce its hyper-modular, commercial-focused Platform Beyond Vehicle strategy. Showing five models in three sizes all based on the platform, the new lineup will begin with the PV5 and focus on delivery, ride-hailing, and smaller commercial work (think your local electrician) thanks to its Lego-like “life modules” and powertrains.

This being 2024, AI is everywhere at CES, even in car world, with Volkswagen incorporating ChatGPT into its Ida voice assistant, Mercedes updating its MBUX Virtual Assistant with a new “empathetic” AI, and Intel designing a new family of AI-infused systems-on-chips to monitor drivers and passengers in an autonomous future.

While most CES concepts aren’t headed for roads anytime soon, one thing you might be able to buy is the latest offering from Vietnamese EV maker VinFast. While its U.S. launch is off to a rocky start, the ultra-compact VF3 might be cute enough to keep the critics at bay, with its bulldog stance and incredibly diminutive size. Measuring in at just a little under 10.5 feet, the VF3 is nearly two feet shorter than the new Fiat 500E or about the same size as a Smart car. Coupled with its off-roader looks and a claimed 125-mile range, the VF3 could be the smallest, affordable, and most adorable EVs for sale in the U.S.

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Damon Lavrinc

Damon Lavrinc is a freelance writer and industrial design student focused on the future of transportation. A former driving instructor and communications professional, Damon is the co-founder of the Autonocast and led transportation technology coverage at WIRED, Jalopnik, and other outlets. Read More

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Sparks

Why It’s Really, Really Important for Biden to Finalize His Emissions Standards

In two charts.

A tailpipe.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The Biden administration has a busy spring ahead of it. On the to-do list: finalizing key regulations covering tailpipe and power sector emissions before they become vulnerable to a new Congress that might have, let’s say, different priorities.

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows (among other things) just how key those regulations are. The paper considers various future policy scenarios beginning in 2025, including one in which the Inflation Reduction Act is fully repealed and another in which the IRA stays and we get a carbon tax.

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Sparks

Even Warren Buffett Thinks the Era of Private Utilities Is Over

The Oracle of Omaha has spoken.

Warren Buffett.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Warren Buffet, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and investing folk hero, has long had a rule for picking which companies to invest in.

“The most important thing [is] trying to find a business with a wide and long-lasting moat around it … protecting a terrific economic castle with an honest lord in charge of the castle,” he told a CNBC crowd in 1995. He has embellished the metaphor over the years — in some versions, sharks populate the moat — but the idea is the same. Seek out companies with a natural competitive advantage, even an inherent monopoly, and prosperity will follow.

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Sparks

Coal’s Slowdown Is Slowing Down

Rising electricity demand puts reliability back on the table.

Pollution.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The United States has been able to drive its greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since the early 1990s largely by reducing the amount of energy on the grid generated by coal to a vast extent. In 2005, by far the predominant source of U.S. electricity, making up some 2.2 million gigawatt-hours of the country’s 4.3 million GWh total energy consumption, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2022, by contrast, coal generation was down to 900,000 GWh out of 4.5 million GWh generated. As a result, “U.S. emissions are 15.8% lower than 2005 levels, while power emissions are 40% lower than 2005 levels,” according to BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

But the steady retirement of coal plants may be slowing down. Only 2.3 GW of coal generating capacity are set to be shut down so far in 2024, according to the Energy Information Administration. While in 2025, that number is expect to jump up to 10.9 GW, the combined 13.2 GW of retired capacity pales in comparison of the more than 22 GW retired in the past two years, according to EIA figures. Over the past decade, coal retirements have averaged about 10 GW a year, with actual retirements often outpacing forecasts.

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