Navigant Research Blog

The Race to Control the Automated Vehicle

— June 14, 2017

Since the birth of the automobile, manufacturers have raced to claim the most power and best performance. The continuing evolution of the internal combustion engine has been a key component in that competition. That’s all about to change. As we begin the transition to automated and electrified vehicles that are programmed to obey speed limits and play nice with other road users, the performance benchmark for satisfying those in the vehicle shifts from the propulsion system to the computing platform, with both old and new players trying to grab a slice of the prize.

The situational awareness needed by highly automated vehicles (HAVs) requires data from sensors and communications links to be fused into a coherent, real-time 3D image of the space around the vehicle. Current semi-independent systems such as stability control, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist each use discrete sensors, electronic control units (ECUs), and related software. More limited feature set and sensor inputs allow them to work with relatively low powered processors by modern computing standards.

Old Processors Aren’t Good Enough

Those aging, low power processors simply aren’t up to the task of managing HAVs. Thus, we have the integration of these systems under a single umbrella computing platform with more input signals than ever. During early development of automated driving, vehicles were packed full of server racks to handle the necessary processing. Production viability requires that to be condensed down to a much smaller package that consumes far less electrical power than the kilowatts used by those servers with reduced heat generation.

Best known for its graphics processors used in video games and editing, Nvidia has grabbed headlines with its Drive PX2 development platform. At just $10,000, this is an ECU for automated driving development utilized by many of the companies working in this space. It is currently too expensive for mass production. At the 2017 CES, supplier ZF announced that it would commercialize this platform as the ProAI ECU in 2018. Bosch made a similar announcement in March, but it will use a repackaged version that combines the graphics processing unit (GPU) and CPU into a single unit. Toyota recently announced that it too would use the Nvidia platform.

Intel Is Continually Making Strategic Acquisitions

Meanwhile, Intel is moving aggressively to expand its footprint in the HAV space. In 2016, BMW announced that it was building its automated driving technology using Intel CPUs and chips from Mobileye for sensor processing. Supplier Delphi is using the same combination with its own software in its multi-domain controller ECU. The current market leader in vision systems for lane keeping assist and collision warning, Mobileye’s next-generation chips are considered so capable that Intel decided to acquire the company for $15 billion. This follows Intel’s 2015 acquisition of Altera for its powerful field programmable gate array (FPGA) processors. Combinations of Intel CPUs, Altera FPGAs, and Mobileye sensor processors are now being made available to manufacturers as the Intel Go platform.

The traditional automotive chip suppliers don’t intend to be left out of the competition either. NXP, which was spun off from consumer electronics giant Philips, acquired Motorola spinoff Freescale in 2015 and is currently in the process of being acquired by Qualcomm as part of a larger effort to power HAVs. Japanese supplier Renesas already provides processing power for many driver assist systems and wants in on the HAV action as well.

With performance, reliability, and thermal management more important than ever in HAVs and the market projected to grow into the tens of millions of vehicles annually by the late 2020s, don’t expect to see any slowdown in the evolution of these computing platforms anytime soon.

 

Ford’s Big Management Shuffle Is About Changing Perceptions

— May 23, 2017

It is often harder to be a century-old company with a record of profitability than it is to be a young one with potential. This sums up the difference between legacy automakers like Ford and Tesla. With only two profitable quarters in its 14-year history, Tesla’s most recent resulted from strategic timing of paying bills and delivering cars. Meanwhile, Ford—despite periods of losses over its 114-year history—has generated immense profits, including records in the past 2 years. Nonetheless, Tesla is the darling of Wall St., while now former Ford CEO Mark Fields and communications VP Ray Day lost their jobs over the weekend.

In the 3 years since Fields succeeded Alan Mulally, the company’s stock price has dropped more than 35% despite record profits. Pre-tax 2017 profits are projected at $9 billion, which is more than Tesla’s total 2016 revenue of $7 billion. Yet, Tesla’s market cap recently topped that of both Ford and General Motors (GM). Clearly, the markets are placing their bets on the perception of where these companies are going in the coming years rather than on the fundamentals of each business.

Fields has been on point in Ford’s effort to be perceived as a forward-thinking technology company since his 2007 CES debut with Microsoft founder Bill Gates to announce SYNC. Even with repeated Las Vegas keynotes by Fields and Mulally and countless investments in developing automated driving and mobility services, investors perceive Ford and other companies that manufacture and sell physical objects as laggards compared to software startups.

Ford isn’t alone in this perception battle. Most automakers are making the pilgrimage to CES to woo the tech community. While few have been hit as hard as Ford, none of the incumbents are getting the love shown to Tesla.

In our Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Automated Driving, Ford, GM, Renault-Nissan, and Daimler scored highest and ahead of several technology companies. Waymo is arguably somewhat ahead on the pure technology front, but automakers have necessary pieces such as manufacturing, service, distribution, and support infrastructure to make viable mobility businesses. Additionally, automakers have a proven ability to deliver physical products—not just the components and software that control them.

Ford’s leadership team, including Executive Chairman Bill Ford, EVP Joe Hinrichs, CTO Raj Nair, and many others, all supported the direction the company was heading under Fields. However, investors didn’t seem to believe in it.

During a press conference with new CEO Jim Hackett, Ford and Hackett both emphasized that the overall strategy of transformation into a mobility services company is moving full steam ahead. Hackett, who comes to the role from being chairman of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, aims to reinforce the strategy and focus on executing the plans. The elevation of Marcy Klevorn from CIO to EVP and the newly created role of President, Mobility highlights this ongoing commitment.

While Hackett’s success or failure won’t be evident for several years, Ford still needs to change investor and public perceptions to boost its stock price and the sales of vehicles it has today. That challenging near-term task falls to Mark Truby, who moves over from Ford of Europe to replace longtime PR chief Ray Day. Day and his team have had successes on the product communications front, but changing the overall perception of the company among investors who have favored high flying tech stocks has been elusive. Whether Truby or anyone else can succeed will be crucial.

 

Preludes to Premium Mobility Services

— May 22, 2017

Moving toward a world where individual vehicle ownership gives way to automated mobility services, automakers and service providers run the risk that their differentiated products will become commodities. In an industry that already runs relatively thin margins on top of high capital costs, the thought of becoming a commodity is a nightmare scenario. That is why companies like Ford and General Motors (GM) are experimenting with models that could feature different price points and margins.

Differentiation Necessary

If you use one of today’s basic ride-hailing services, it doesn’t matter if you use Lyft, Uber, Gett, or one of the numerous small services that operate regionally. Using luxury tiers like Uber Black gets users a premium vehicle, but otherwise the service is essentially the same and the prices are usually close. In order to charge a premium price that can generate the profits needed to sustain a business, companies will have to find ways to differentiate.

In a world where the car you ride in becomes random, the overall customer experience of the service will become crucial. That may include being able to specify what type of vehicle you want, guaranteed shorter wait times, access to added services like picking up the dry cleaning or groceries, and more.

In January 2017, GM’s Cadillac division launched Book, a service that enables customers to pay a flat monthly fee and get access to any of the vehicles in the brand’s model lineup. A subscriber may opt to spend the week commuting in an XT5 crossover, switch to an ATS-V performance coupe for a weekend jaunt in the country, or get an Escalade for a family road trip. Cadillac takes care of insurance, detailing, and maintenance.

At the New York Auto Show in April 2017, Lincoln announced its Chauffeur service. As the name implies, Lincoln provides its customers with access to a professional driver when owners cannot or don’t want to drive—such as on a special date night or to pick up the kids from an event. Lincoln screens the drivers and they arrive at the customer’s location on request to drive the customer’s car. Lincoln Chauffeur debuted in Miami and is now expanding to San Diego.

An Automated Future

Hypothetically, 5 to 10 years from now when both of these brands (and others) are offering a range of automated vehicles, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where services evolve to take advantage of that automation. The Cadillac of your choice appears at your doorstep on demand; for certain models like the high performance V series, GM can offer the option for the customer to drive if they choose while others may be automated only. Similarly, Lincoln Chauffeur could be utilized with automation for vehicles that customers buy, lease, or subscribe to on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also articulated a vision where his customers could make their vehicles available for short-term rentals when not being used.

These and other varieties of services will mean dramatic changes for the automotive retail business, as well the automakers and customers. The choice of whether to lease or buy gets expanded into additional types of payment plans, including by the mile, hour, month, and more. The possibilities will be limitless for affluent customers. For example, a customer may not need to decide what color car they want in their garage; they can order one coordinated to their outfit for the evening. No doubt there will be many more experiments from automakers over the next several years as they seek to navigate their way through a changing transportation landscape.

 

Increasing Collaboration between Tech and Automakers Is Better for Everyone

— May 19, 2017

Over the past several years, there has been an ongoing narrative that a battle has sprung up between Silicon Valley and the auto industry. The tech industry hype machine wants the world to believe that venture capital-backed startups are going to appear with some magic technology that disrupts and destroys the century-old incumbents. The reality is likely to turn out quite differently, with some of the brightest minds in the valley coming up with cool ideas that become a key part of the transportation ecosystem.

Tech Has Saved the Automobile Industry Before

The fact that the auto industry has remained vibrant over the past 50 years can in large part be traced to innovations that have emerged from the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly the silicon microprocessor that gave the region its nickname. At the onset of environmental regulation at the end of the 1960s, most of the functional aspects of cars were mechanically controlled, and these vehicles consumed more fuel and spewed more pollution than they do today.

As engineers struggled to meet the new regulatory requirements, the industry entered what became known to car enthusiasts like myself as the malaise era. Attempts to better control engines through mechanical means like vacuum lines led to many terrible engines with weak output, awful drivability, and barely improved emissions and efficiency.

Silicon Valley saved the auto industry from being suffocated by regulations. As early microprocessors and sensors were applied to engine and transmission management as well as new safety systems like anti-lock brakes, it became clear that computers in the car would be the key to enhanced driving. By the mid-1980s, electronic controls were enabling engineers to extract more power while using less fuel and cleaning up emissions. As fuel economy regulations stopped climbing, car companies offered customers improved performance and capability without making them spend more at the pump.

After earning my degree in mechanical engineering, I spent the next 17 years working on improving vehicles through  more sophisticated software running on a series of cheaper, yet more powerful slivers of silicon. Today’s most sophisticated vehicles utilize anywhere from 50 to 100 onboard computers to manage everything from lights that follow the angle of the steering wheel to automatically maneuvering a truck to connect a trailer.

Looking Forward to More Industry Collaboration

Silicon Valley has been a key enabler of the modern vehicle for decades. As we shift toward a world where most of the driving is done by software instead of people, the tech and auto industries must continue to collaborate more closely. The auto industry has developed an immense base of knowledge in building complex pieces of hardware at high volume and with high degrees of reliability and durability. Those machines come in a huge variety of configurations to meet virtually every possible transportation need.

Meanwhile, the tech industry has an unrivaled set of capabilities in developing software and electronics and driving down costs while improving performance. There are great minds on both sides focused on how to make mobility safer, cheaper, and more universally accessible. The Navigant Research Leaderboard Report: Automated Driving scored automakers and tech companies on their likelihood of success in commercializing this technology.

Almost everyone recognizes that transportation will change in the coming decades. The collaboration between the tech and auto industries has yielded incredible results for nearly half a century. New partnerships are going to form on the way to fully automated driving. There’s no need to spin those relationships into a competition when greater collaboration will likely yield much better results for everyone moving forward.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Digital Utility Strategies, Electric Vehicles, Energy Technologies, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Transformations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Sam Abuelsamid","path":"\/author\/samabuelsamid","date":"6\/28\/2017"}