Gadget Makers Tackle Electric Cars

Phones on wheels?

Key Takeaways

  • Xiaomi plans to launch its first electric car in the first half of 2024.
  • Smartphone makers could create an entirely new vehicle and driving experience, one expert says. 
  • Apple and Google also have been trying their hand at electric vehicles for some time, but without much success so far.
A white EV connected to a charging station.

SergiiAremenko / Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Electric cars soon could be the new smartphones. 

Chinese gadget maker Xiaomi recently announced plans to launch its first electric car in the first half of 2024. It's part of a growing interest in translating personal electronics to the booming electric vehicle (EV) market in a move that could make cars that feel more like smartphones.

"The mobile-first revolution, which has led to over 6 billion smartphone users today, has caused consumers to expect and demand mobile-first designs and experiences in every facet of their lives," Nakul Duggal, an auto expert at the semiconductor and wireless company Qualcomm, told Lifewire in an email interview. "This means app-driven, intuitive interfaces, always-on devices, with global connectivity."

Roll the Tablets

Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun said that after the company launches its first EV, it then plans to launch a new car in each of the following three years. 

Lei said that if Xiaomi, which manufactures smartphones and other gadgets, does not participate in the electric vehicle industry, it would "be eliminated" because "electric cars have now transformed from a mechanical industry to an information industry," according to CnEVPost.

Smartphone makers could create an entirely new vehicle and driving experience, Christoph Erni, the CEO of Juice Technology, which makes electrical charging stations for cars, told Lifewire in an email interview. For example, the Xiaomi car might offer the same controls and user interface as the Xiaomi smartphone. 

"So, the user feels like they are using their phone to drive," he added. "This would make it child's play to use, as the driver would already be familiar with the software and user interface."

Another advantage for phone makers who go auto would be seamless integration with mobile operating systems, Erni said. Vehicle manufacturers currently must take two operating systems into account (Android and iOS), and although both have been around for a long time, there are still interruptions in connections or display problems, he pointed out. 

"Xiaomi could offer a cell phone with every car sold, which would expand their market and provide users with an integrated, ideally functioning system from a single vendor," he said. 

A Natural Step

Electric cars aren't just smartphones on wheels. Apple and Google have also been trying their hand at electric vehicles for some time, but without much success so far, Duggal said. 

"The modern car is a mobile 'living-room and office' that is battery-powered, always-on and connected, and supports many forms of autonomous mobility."

"Neither have yet developed suitable vehicles that could actually go into series production, which shows that manufacturing a car is not that simple," he added.

Dyson tried to make an electric car with a market-challenging range and seven seats, but the project was abandoned. Sony is working on its first electric vehicle (Vision S), and it could be a promising attempt from an electronics maker.

Recently, Taiwanese company Foxconn, a supplier for well-known electronics brands, announced manufacturing plans for its electric vehicle platform.

Personal electronics companies still have to look for talent from the car industry to succeed, auto expert Matas Buzelis of carVertical, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Safety is a critical area since the standards in the industry are very high," he said. 

However, it has never been easier to get into the car manufacturing business, Buzelis said. 

"Many years of experience in engines and drivetrains are not that important anymore," he added. "Even 3D-printed cars are already here, completely redefining how people understand how cars can be created and assembled. It changes the whole process of research and development, too."

A parent showing their children how to charge an electric vehicle.

Maskot / Getty Images

Smartphone manufacturers like Xiaomi have experience working with a complex ecosystem of semiconductors, operating systems, applications and app developers, wireless networks, and cloud solutions. It turns out that those same technologies are critical in the design and development of connected and autonomous cars, Duggal said. 

"The modern car is a mobile 'living-room and office' that is battery-powered, always-on and connected, and supports many forms of autonomous mobility," Duggal added. 

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