Navigant Research Blog

Google and Fiat Chrysler Team Up to Build New Fleet of Self-Driving Minivans

— May 3, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2For the first time since Google began work on developing autonomous vehicle technology 7 years ago, the company now has an official relationship with an existing automaker. The technology giant is teaming up with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to build an expanded test fleet to accumulate more real-world miles. Engineering teams from FCA and Google will be co-located at an undisclosed facility somewhere in southeast Michigan to develop and build vehicles based on the new Pacifica Hybrid minivan.

Until now, Google has largely worked independently on its self-driving car program, purchasing Toyota Priuses and Lexus RX450s and installing the sensors and computing hardware necessary to have the vehicles drive themselves. More recently, Google contracted with Michigan-based Roush Engineering to build dozens of dedicated self-driving pod vehicles, but these were strictly low-speed electric machines limited to a maximum speed of 25 mph.

Approaching the Automakers

Several automakers have acknowledged off the record that they had been approached by Google over the past several years, but the business conditions set by Google were unacceptable. Essentially, Google wanted a company to build cars and turn them over for installation of a black box control system. Since it’s generally acknowledged now that automakers will be liable for the reliability and performance of autonomous vehicles, no company was willing to cede that much control to Google.

The hiring of former Ford and Hyundai executive John Krafcik as CEO of the Google Self-Driving Cars division last fall likely led to a change in attitude in Mountain View about how to collaborate with incumbent automakers. There had been speculation in late 2015 that Google would announce a partnership with Ford as early as the 2016 CES in Las Vegas last January, but the show came and went without an announcement.

For more than a year, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has been looking for a partner to merge with. Marchionne made an especially hard push for a merger with General Motors, but was repeatedly turned away. More recently, Marchionne has publicly stated that FCA would make an excellent partner to manufacture vehicles for Apple should the electronics company decide to get into the automotive business. Given FCA’s limited resources relative to larger rivals in Detroit, Europe, and Asia, a partnership with Google is likely the company’s best course of action right now.

FCA Developments

Navigant Research’s Leaderboard Report: Autonomous Vehicle OEMs from last year ranked FCA 14th among 18 OEMs evaluated for their work on autonomous vehicles. FCA has never publicly discussed or demonstrated an autonomous vehicle program, although it has been surprisingly aggressive in deploying advanced driver assistance systems to its model lineup in the past 3 years. Back in the mid-1990s, Chrysler also developed robotic driving systems that could be used to control vehicles running on a particularly harsh durability test track at its Chelsea, Michigan proving ground. Human drivers could only withstand short periods of driving on the course because of the pounding and it was hoped that an autonomous system could be used to conduct accelerated durability tests. The system was not sufficiently reliable at that time and was eventually abandoned.

The new Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid was unveiled in January 2016 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit and features FCA’s first in-house developed hybrid drivetrain. The plug-in hybrid features an 18-kWh lithium ion battery pack manufactured by LG Chem in Holland, Michigan and is capable of an approximately 30-mile all-electric driving range.

FCA and Google have not said when the new autonomous minivans will be ready for testing, but the 100 vehicle fleet will enable the two companies to significantly expand their collection of real-world data needed to make autonomous systems more robust.

 

Key Automotive Trends Are Driving Acquisitions

— May 2, 2016

DashboardAs a new Navigant Research white paper on transportation is published, it is interesting to note that the trends identified are already influencing mergers and acquisitions (M&A) decisions in the automotive world today. Transportation Outlook: 2025 to 2050 takes a long-term view of how the automotive vehicle market may change over the next 35 years. As with all long-term forecasts, there are many unknowns that could influence the end results, but it is a useful exercise to think about where current trends could lead.

The study identifies four major trends in automotive technology today and extrapolates into the future to speculate about how the global marketplace might change. The four technologies are:

  • Connectivity
  • Autonomous ariving
  • Car and ridesharing
  • Electric drive

It is interesting to observe some recent M&A activity that acknowledges the significance of these technology developments for the future. Although they have evolved independently, the key to long-term success is integration.

Recent M&A Announcements

While one aspect of acquisitions is always economic and looking for efficiency improvements from shared overheads and broadening of product offerings, some are more about strategic factors that consider long-term goals.

NXP and Freescale: This merger was announced in March 2015 and completed by December. NXP wanted to increase the proportion of its automotive business and was attracted by Freescale’s growing business supplying original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with processors for powertrain and safety systems, particularly advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

Intel and Altera: Completed in December 2015, Altera expanded the Intel product line into field-programmable gate array technology, which makes it easier to customize processors and upgrade them while in service. While generally useful for the Internet of Things, one possible application may be for secure chips to control safety and autonomous driving systems. Updating software remotely is a topic covered in more detail in a recent blog from my colleague Sam Abuelsamid.

Intel and Yogitech: Acquired in April 2016, Yogitech specializes in fault-tolerant integrated circuits. With concerns about hacking and interference growing as more cars become connected by wireless communications, safety is an important factor for automotive OEMs.

General Motors (GM), Lyft, and Sidecar: In January 2016, GM acquired the employees and technology of Sidecar, a ridesharing service that shut down in December 2015. At around the same time, GM made a major investment in Lyft, the largest U.S. competitor to Uber. The automaker does not want to get left behind in the on-demand mobility stakes. For more detail, see another blog from my colleague Sam Abuelsamid.

General Motors and Cruise Automation: In March 2016, GM announced it was buying Cruise Automation (founded in 2013) to accelerate development of autonomous driving functionality for its vehicles.

Harman and TowerSec: Once known mainly for audio and infotainment systems, Harman is expanding its product line into connected and autonomous vehicles. TowerSec provides important extra safety via cyber security capability.

ZF Friedrichshafen and TRW: When ZF Friedrichshafen AG acquired TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. in May 2015, it added key expertise in radar and camera sensors to its offerings, among other things. TRW is now a new division within ZF called Active & Passive Safety Technology. The Tier One supplier can now offer complete ADAS capability from sensors to activation of steering and brakes.

Also in 2015, Audi, BMW, and Daimler got together to acquire HERE from Nokia. This was covered in a Navigant Research blog at the time by Lisa Jerram.

This is a quick overview of recent activity in the automotive world; there will surely be more to look forward to in the near future.

 

Truck Platooning Hits the Road

— April 20, 2016

Connected VehiclesA group of two or more vehicles traveling together and linked by wireless communications is known as a platoon. The idea is that each vehicle communicates directly with the lead vehicle so that any braking or acceleration commands are acted on simultaneously. Because the delay caused by driver reaction time is eliminated, vehicles can travel much closer together without compromising safety.

As well as using less space on the road, vehicles that are platooning save significant fuel expense mainly due to the reduction in drag. Tests have shown fuel economy improvements of up to 10% for following vehicles and as much as 5% for the lead vehicle. Actual benefits will vary depending on a wide range of factors, but they are expected to be significant. The initial benefit data came from the European Union’s (EU’s) SARTRE project led by Volvo, which ran from 2009 through 2012.

Initiatives on the Rise

There are a number of initiatives now underway to advance the technology and help bring it into production. In 2014, the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council established the Automated Driving and Platooning Task Force within its Future Truck program. In 2016, the European Truck Platooning Challenge was set up with a goal to accelerate the introduction of truck platoons by putting the subject high on the agenda of EU policymakers. The challenge is being organized by the Netherlands as part of its EU presidency.

While developing and testing the technology is very important, policymaker support is necessary for long-term success. The EU project is tackling this by coordinating both multiple vehicle manufacturers and EU lawmakers from a range of countries. A key initial step was accomplished in April 2016 when a successful pilot test was completed with teams of trucks converging on Rotterdam from all over Europe.

OEMs Lead the Way

Truck OEMs participating in the challenge include DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania, and Volvo Group. Daimler sent three of its Mercedes-Benz autonomous trucks from Stuttgart, Germany using its Connected Highway Pilot system. Iveco sent two heavy-duty Stralis semi-automated trucks from Brussels, Belgium. Volvo sent three trucks in a platoon from Gothenburg, Sweden.

The ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association) sees its role on the project as encouraging individual countries to work together to avoid creating a patchwork of rules and regulations. Shared standards will be important to encourage investments in automated and connected vehicles by maximizing future potential component volumes.

Truck platooning is an important step toward self-driving truck fleets. Navigant Research has a detailed Autonomous Commercial Vehicles report planned for 4Q 2016, and it is encouraging that on-road testing has begun already. Some of the subsystems such as sensors and sensor fusion software can be shared with suppliers and manufacturers of light-duty vehicles, as well as image processing software that can identify obstacles. More details on the consumer vehicle market for self-driving features are available in Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report, and analysis of the technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communication is featured in the Connected Vehicles report.

 

Toyota, Microsoft, and an Army of Software Bots to Deliver Contextual Driving

— April 15, 2016

Connected VehiclesA new Toyota subsidiary aims to provide drivers with autonomous contextual help via the assistance of software bot technology just announced by Microsoft. Skynet isn’t here just yet, but Toyota Connected Inc. represents just the beginning of where transportation is heading in the coming decades as we transition from personally owned vehicles to mobility as a service.

Bots, as they have become known in recent years, are basically just a relatively new type of app that usually runs on a server somewhere in the cloud. What makes bots special is their ability to tap into huge databases and take advantage of sophisticated machine learning to understand the meaning of a query. Those queries can come from either a human or another bot. One bot may collect information from any number of other bots, merging and presenting it to a human or vehicle interface at the edge of the cloud.

Cascade of Queries

A contemporary example might be a driver telling their car that they are hungry. This could trigger a cascade of queries that take your current location, stored data about your favorite kinds of food, finds a restaurant with an available table at a time based on how long it will take to arrive there, and returns a response of “Would you like a reservation at restaurant X at 6:45 p.m.?” All of this could stem automatically from that one original question with no further input from the driver.

Now imagine extending this concept 20 years into the future when we will have fleets of on-demand autonomous vehicles moving around cities, as projected in Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 white paper. Today, if you are leaving one appointment and heading to another, you pull out a phone, open the Uber or Lyft app, and request a ride.

In 2035, the mobile communicator that has replaced your phone reads your calendar, sees you have an appointment 20 minutes away, knows your current meeting will end in 5 minutes, and automatically summons a vehicle to your location so that it pulls up as you step out onto the sidewalk with no intervention. Several bots have contributed to this function, including one that provides weather data, another with real-time and historical traffic information, one to monitor your calendar, and another to handle billing for the mobility service of your choice, all without any direct input from the rider.

Bot Creation

At its Build 2016 developer conference on March 30, Microsoft announced the release of bot software development framework to simplify the task of creating bots. Toyota Connected plans to utilize the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to provide services to its customers utilizing data from telematics and vehicle-to-external (V2X) communications systems. These communications pathways can provide drivers with real-time alerts about slippery roads when a vehicle ahead triggers an automated braking system or stability control, and can also enable automatic re-routing to avoid congestion or reduce energy consumption.

Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report projects that more than 80 million vehicles will be sold with V2X capability in 2025. Contextual data moving through the air between bots in vehicles and in the cloud is expected to reduce energy use, improve road safety, and generally make life more convenient for everyone.

 

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