2015 was a big year for the electric and autonomous vehicle industry, marked by announcements coming from virtually all companies in the automotive sector, the ride sharing behemoths and other emerging tech players. With an eye on new technological enablement, existing infrastructure, funding and evolving business models, we are about to witness the most dramatic shift in transportation since we went from horse and buggy to the Model T.
Without a doubt, the future of our mobility will be in electric, cooperative and autonomous transportation. Most impressive about this shift is in the rate of innovation, evolution and technology development that is virtually ready for market, granted some final transportation authority seals of approval.
We’re moving from lease/buy it, fuel, it, drive it, to; on-demand, get in and get there. “They” own it, manage it and charge it. Simply owning a vehicle in cities in the future will not be necessary in this new “urban automated transportation” world.
And as in all technological and industrial revolutions – some players inevitably die, and new players emerge. It’s how innovation works. Perhaps BuckMinster Fuller said it best;
You never change things by fighting an existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
We see this happening with emerging companies, but also being admitted by large automakers such as Ford and GM. The question is if and how they will adapt their model to this new future. Some thoughts on how GM and Ford are planning on doing that is below.
Ever since Elon Musk shared the Tesla dream of being able to “drive coast to coast and leave your wallet at home”, the industry has been on fire. Tesla’s have made their way into cities across the world in rapid (fully undisclosed) numbers. The acclaimed automaker brought EV’s mainstream in the same way that Apple did the iPhone. Things have never been the same since.
In September, Tesla unveiled the Model X SUV to the world, in front of their ever increasing army of Apple-esque brand advocates and customers. Then in January, they announced the “summon feature” – a tantalizing display of a controlled environment and existing autonomous capabilities. Tesla has a unique advantage in the industry because of their ability to literally “upload” new autonomous features to their vehicles software overnight. One day Tesla owners will wake up and get driven to their destination.
In December, news emerged of Google-parent Alphabet Inc. partnering with Ford to co-produce autonomous cars.
Apple, being more tight-lipped about things, purchased the apple.car and apple.auto domains (amongst others), to foreshadow their pending involvement in the space.
In April, Bosh unveiled their vision for autonomous vehicles, using a Tesla in it’s example, with heavy reliance on it’s oversizes digital screen in the console.
Uber opened up their developer kit for “Uber Trip Experiences”
Toyota Research Institute assembled a billion dollar team for their new 5 year plan to focus on artificial intelligence and robotics inside the autonomous driving ecosystem, among them was Google’s robotics chief.
In January of this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, Faraday Future unveiled their initial FFZero1 concept. In just a teaser of a single occupant bat-mobile-looking car, the most interesting part of their choppy performance (that Musk likely giggled at) was the modular chassis and battery pack that allow for streamlined production of different models. Their onboard electronics foreshadow imminent autonomous driving capabilities. They lean on their mission of “completely rethinking what mobility means”.
Ford also unveiled their plans at CES by stating a $4 billion dollar plan to launch 13 electric vehicles by 2020. An interview with Don Butler, executive director of Ford’s connected vehicles can be seen here, along with their CES presentation.
Perhaps most notably, Lyft announced a whopping $1 billion dollar financing (at a $5.5b post-money valuation), with $500 million coming directly from none other than General Motors. Not too shabby for a company that is coming off a $127 million dollar loss in the first half of 2015 (on $46.7 million in revenue).
In what is set to be a “very close” working relationship, Lyft Co-Founder & President John Zimmer and GM President, Dan Ammann spoke in depth about the future of mobility in ride sharing and the inevitable “autonomous on-demand network”. They agree that transportation is becoming more of a service-based model and that this new “transportation experience” you can have individually or with friends is just a few years away. Definitely under 10.
Without the long term commitment of a lease, Lyft drivers can rent GM vehicles by the week or by the month in new “rental hubs”, to enter into and profit from the Lyft ecosystem, which is what the companies are starting with immediately in Q1 of 2016. GM is posturing to add to their model of just selling and manufacturing cars.
GM President Ammann forcefully stated that the automotive industry will “change more in the next 5 years than it did in the past 50”. Very insightful prediction coming from a guy that is perched in a chair high atop the automotive industry. He continued to say; “we obviously want to make sure we’re at the forefront of that change”.
They discussed the paradigm-bending topic of “driver experience”, and a focus to what occupants do while en route to their destination via autonomous means.
Uber’s Travis Kalanick, (now at a $68b valuation) who has been investing heavily in self driving auto companies, says that it will be about 5-15 years before these cars come to market. When you can read between the line and see who’s model is more dependent upon humans to thrive, you put more weight on the low end of the spectrum of this projected time to market.
2016 will be another big year in this space, and we will continue to see a lot of advancement carried forward from the 2015 momentum, from all areas.
Amidst this transformative advancement in transportation, one must not underestimate the smaller up and coming players.
Take for example a company such as Moovee Innovations, who over the past 3 years have developed an autonomous “internet of cars” vehicle technology platform as well as autonomous vehicle prototypes that they believe have vast applications in the “Car To Go” or “last mile” markets in conjunction with existing transportation infrastructure and networks.
With an impressive and highly talented technical team and unique access to the University of British Columbia’s rich academic research team and resources, they continue to make rapid strides on their products, while evaluating strategic opportunities to bring both commercial and individual autonomous driving into the market.
It’s companies like Moovee that have the eye of the big players who seek strategic acquisitions to save as little as 6-12 months in strategic development time in this hyperactive growth period. Uber and Google have already shown this time and time again in the past couple years. Even urban transportation authorities and cities are looking at solutions to become greener, save costs and carbon emissions, while adding further access and services to growing populations.
So the question is left at WHEN will we see this things being summoned up to the curb via smartphone. The answer; sooner than you’d expect.