It won’t shock anyone to hear that the very first media unveiling at massive tech conference the Consumer Electronics Show, which kicked off in Las Vegas this week, was something designed for “millennials.”
Yes, that much-discussed up-and-coming generation that may or may not buy cars or houses, or want to work conventional jobs, according to whatever latest (and often conflicting) research you read. But a it's group that’s highly coveted by just about every brand that’s trying to stay relevant.
On Tuesday, deep within the second floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the automaker Fiat Chrysler invited the media into a dimly lit room to show off a prototype of an electric concept car called the Portal.
The car takes cues from a minivan with sliding doors, and it is chock-full of all the buzzy characteristics we’ve been told the Snapchat generation will want, like a “modular” frame, a “personalized” lighting system, and always-on “connectivity.”
Some of Fiat Chrysler’s youngest-looking designers took the stage to describe how the car can flash different colored lights and can be modified to add more seats (if millennials decide to have kids). An interior designer described the inside of the car as a “gallery” space and the car’s color palette as akin to “your favorite sweater.”
Meanwhile, passengers in the Portal can have shared screens and cameras where they can do things like karaoke. Seriously.
It was all a bit much. As was the media frenzy that descended onto the car after the event.
But one thing that Fiat Chrysler did right was that they decided to make the car all-electric, powered by a 100-kilowatt-hour battery. No gasoline needed for this car of roadtripping 20-somethings. The Portal concept has 250 miles of range per charge, and can be charged by a portal on the front hood.
Like many of the world’s biggest automakers, Fiat Chrysler is validating the emerging rise of electric cars and knows the next generation could be the technology’s biggest buyer. A decade from now, many first-time car owners will opt for an electric car instead of one with an internal combustion engine.
Hours before the Portal unveiling, Ford announced a sweep of new electric cars it plans to make. Ford executives even said that electric cars would overtake gas-powered models within 15 years.
Others automakers like electric-car maker Tesla have been working on the assumption of such a transformation for a decade. Elon Musk’s car company is skipping the CES hullabaloo and is instead showing investors its Gigafactory, which is upstate outside of Reno, Nevada.
In recent years, the auto industry has begun to dominate CES, as car companies try to figure out how to keep selling cars, software for cars, and gadgets for cars in alternative ways. When cars go all-electric, they become more like large consumer electronics device themselves, so it makes sense that CES is now a promising venue for the industry.
Who knows if the next-generation will ever want to buy something like one of Fiat Chrysler’s Portals. But that’s also exactly why the company launched the car on Tuesday.
It’s a concept-only right now, and the company is waiting to see what the reaction is. If the reaction is good, the company could use some of the elements to inspire commercial cars. Hopefully, the electrification of the Portal will be the element that really sticks.