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Tech show offers transport solutions for Covid-changed world

New options on display at the all-digital 2021 Consumer Electronics Show underscore the changes in mobility during the global health crisis, with more personal vehicle use and less emphasis on sharing.

A BrightDrop EV 600 used by FedEx. Picture: @FedEx/Twitter

WASHINGTON - The global pandemic has put the brakes on a number of mobility trends, prompting the transportation industry to rethink strategy.

New options on display at the all-digital 2021 Consumer Electronics Show underscore the changes in mobility during the global health crisis, with more personal vehicle use and less emphasis on sharing.

Interest in electric vehicles meanwhile has accelerated in the wake of the stunning growth of Tesla, with many parts of the world seeing increased adoption. And more options are being offered for personal "micromobility" and delivery amid the surge in online commerce.

General Motors offered its vision at CES this week, unveiling a new BrightDrop brand of electric delivery vans along with previews of its newer Bolt, Cadillac and Hummer electric vehicles.

"Before the pandemic, shared mobility was the name of the game," said Axel Schmidt, global auto analyst with Accenture. "COVID-19 has put the brakes on this."

The vehicles shown at CES appeared to be taking a page out of Tesla's book by touting performance and design features.

The GMC Hummer EV set to start production this year features powerful acceleration, hands-free driving and "crab walk" mode which can navigate difficult terrain by turning its wheels up to 10 degrees.

"It has a crazy amount of power and celebrates the performance possibilities of electric propulsion," said GM engineer Aaron Pfau of the mega-truck.

Audi meanwhile flaunted its concept high-performance RS e-tron GT sports car, which can accelerate to 100 kilometers (60 miles) per hour in around three seconds.

It represents "the future of electric high-performance cars," Audi's Michael Loehe said in a CES streamed presentation.

Schmidt of Accenture said that electric car drivers "are surprised by the power and performance."

Additionally, the electric powertrain allows for more design flexibility "so you have different space concepts" in a vehicle.

Schmidt said autonomous driving, a feature at CES in previous years, has taken a back seat as the technology is refined.

Autonomous driving - whose goals have been pushed back amid technical challenges - is still in an "evolutionary" period, according to Schmidt and unlikely to go mainstream in the next few years.

MICROMOBILITY STILL HOT

So-called "micromobility" meanwhile remained a hot topic with the showcasing of the Segway Ninebot smart electric bike and a presentation from Italian bike-sharing startup Vaimoo, which uses artificial intelligence and geolocation to keep the two-wheelers available where needed.

Cake, the Swedish e-bike maker, unveiled an electric food delivery box to keep meals hot or cold for the fast-growing trend during the pandemic.

The temperature-controlled box from Sweden's Dometic is designed for the Cake-made bikes and is expected to launch later this year.

The companies said global food deliveries have already increased by 60% from 2017, and are likely to grow further in the coming years.

While the pandemic has shifted transport trends - with many people avoiding mass transit and shared rides - a big question is how long these changes will last, according to Schmidt.

"In every big city, shared mobility or micromobility is the only solution," he said.

Schmidt said he expects people to become more comfortable with shared transport by the end of the year, "and by 2023 we could see an acceleration" for shared mobility.

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