The Model 3 Is Further Proof of Tesla’s Asymmetric War Against the Auto Industry

31 Jul

Tesla Asymmetric War

I didn’t attend the Tesla Model 3 launch. Did I have to? Everyone knows my position: If you actually want to #MAGA, Tesla is your company, and Elon Musk is your man. Even if you hate the whole enterprise, even if the Big One destroyed Fremont tomorrow, the world is a different and better place because of what Musk has built at Tesla.

What the Model 3 launch proves is that Tesla’s not going away. Not ever.

Don’t believe me? Let’s study the history of warfare, which is that of business plus death. One would think that with stakes as high as they are, lessons learned from the study of war would guide business more than it does, at least in the auto industry.

The French have always been celebrated for their Champagnes, but their greatest gift to the world is actually a better understanding of war. The Maginot Line — built in the 1930s to repel the German infantry & artillery assaults of 1914-18 — was overrun in 1940 by the German Blitzkrieg, or “lightning war.” It wouldn’t have mattered if the French fortifications had extended to the English Channel, or if they had been fully manned; if it were pierced, armored columns could flow through. Continue reading

Why This $4,000 Renault Is as Disruptive as the Tesla Model 3

18 Jul

Kwid Disruption Tesla

Want to see the future of transportation? Spend 96 hours in India.

What is disruption? Ask the clickbait mills and the sheep who retweet them, and thy name is Tesla. Everyone knows the Tesla story. AutonomyElectrificationSuperchargersMusk! If it weren’t for Tesla, we’d still be waiting for our electric and autonomous future to dawn. The Model 3 will disrupt, just as Tesla has disrupted the entire automotive sector, and now you can own one for only $35,000, plus options. It’s all true, but it’s only half right.

Go to India and Renault will sell the other half of disruption for just under $4,000.

This French-Indian disruptor is called the Kwid, and it’s the opposite of the Tesla Model 3 in almost every way. It lacks any of the technology or performance that earn cars placement on magazine covers. It’s a front-wheel-drive, 3-cylinder, 800-cc, four-door compact crossover (CUV) with plastic cladding. Boxes ticked? None. And yet it is the most important car in the largest segment in what will soon be the third largest car market in the world. Continue reading

The Secret Behind Norway’s EV “Miracle” Isn’t Oil

12 Jul

This is Part 1 of my journey around the world to understand the future of transportation.

I want to believe our electric automotive and autonomous future is around the corner, but with the stench of clickbait fouling most rational discussion, I took a road trip around the world to investigate the narratives most frequently repeated by lazy media and gullible investors.

Let’s start with electric vehicles. Are EVs really about to reach a tipping point?

My first stop was Norway, the most electrified country in the world, where an EV “miracle” has allegedly taken place. The car? A state-of-the-art Tesla Model S P100D, a car I know and love. The route? Eight hundred miles from Oslo to Kristiansund and back, with a detour to drive the legendary Atlantic Road.

As usual, things are not what they seem. Continue reading

Dear Elon Musk: You Need Me For the Self-Driving Tesla Cannonball Run

22 May

Tesla

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Dear Elon:

Just over 100 years ago, Erwin “Cannonball” Baker drove a Stutz Bearcat from Los Angeles to New York City in 271 hours, ushering in the era of coast-to-coast endurance driving records that still bear his nickname. Although “Cannonballing” is often conflated with reckless driving, Baker’s feat—and his 142 records that followed—was intended to demonstrate the safety and reliability of the internal combustion technology that would transform the 20th century.

With your claim that a Tesla will make the first “full self-driving” cross-country run before the end of 2017, a new era is about to dawn, and with it a new series of records showcasing the electric and autonomous technologies that will transform the 21st.

Among all the potential benefits of self-driving cars, the moral imperative to reduce injuries and deaths caused by human driving towers above all others. Tesla already commands 40% of global press in the automotive sector; combined with the hope, fear and anticipation over the arrival of self-driving cars, the first Level 4 Cannonball Run record will be one of the most important events in the history of transportation, if not human history.

The public spectacle of a Tesla’s safe journey across the United States will likely become the hinge upon which public faith in autonomous driving will swing.

But only if the public believes it.

An edited video isn’t going to cut it. Continue reading

Who Is Really #1 In Self-Driving Cars?

7 Apr

Who is really #1 in self-driving cars? You wouldn’t know it from this week’s unintentionally entertaining Navigant Research Leaderboard Report on Automated Driving, which placed Ford first, GM second and Renault-Nissan third. Waymo? Seventh. Tesla? Twelfth. The media—most of whom appear not to have paid $3,800 to read the raw report—lapped it up. Wired’s summary ran with the mother-of-all-clickbait heds, “Detroit Is Stomping Silicon Valley In The Self-Driving Car Race.”

The Navigant report is well researched—it’s Navigant, after all—but it has one major flaw: It doesn’t really make sense.

No less than Elon Musk biographer Ashlee Vance launched a Twitter waragainst Navigant’s Senior Analyst Sam Abuelsamid, suggesting the report was skewed by the company’s client list, which includes Ford and other companies that ranked higher than conventional wisdom would suggest. I disagree with Vance. Navigant has a long history of transparency and authoritative research. The authors’ credibility—especially that of the widely respected Abuelsamid—is unimpeachable.

The problem isn’t with Navigant’s research, it’s with the report’s scope and methodology.

The overall thesis—that self-driving technology is nothing without the might of a traditional manufacturer behind it—is as myopic as Silicon Valley’s belief that technology investments alone can “disrupt” the car industry.

This type of disruption mythology makes me sick. Disruption isn’t magic. Disruption isn’t the art of executing an idea competitors can’t or won’t. Disruption is the science of executing an idea better than competitors can or will. Disruption mythology harms both sides of an industry under attack, because it masks the nature of realities everyone must face if they want to survive and prosper.

Navigant’s report is a perfect example of counter-disruption mythology, a document that satisfies a calcified industry who want to believe buying is as good as building, money can solve for time, and being a Foxconn in a new transportation paradigm is for losers.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Will Sully Save Human Driving?

21 Mar

Lost in the putrid cloud of self-driving car clickbait, the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation held its first meeting on January 16th, 2017. One look at its members is all it takes to know whose lobbying dollars hold sway in Washington. The largest constituency? A bloc including Apple, Amazon, Lyft, Uber, Waymo and Zoox, all of whom profit from you losing your steering wheel as soon as possible. They may cite safety, but there is only one objective voice on the panel, a man with true life and death experience at the intersection of human skill and automation:

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

In a world where political hacks and “experts” are increasingly replacing those with real-world experience, Sully’s inclusion on the panel is a revelation. Best known for The Miracle on the Hudson, Sully’s entire career has been devoted to safety. Look past the mythology, and his is the story of the opportunity, danger and cost inherent to sacrificing skilled humans on the altar of automation. Sully has written and spoken extensively on the criticality of training and compensation for airline pilots, and his insights have clear applications to the future of the trucking industry.

In a recent interview, Sully made clear three simple messages: 1) we need real standards for self-driving cars, 2) the industry needs to reboot its approach to semi-autonomous cars, and 3) drivers education “is a national disgrace.”

Sully also ends his interview with a singularly authoritative message about human driving. TL:DR? If you love driving, read this to the end.

Continue reading

Is Cadillac The Trojan Horse of Mobility?

13 Feb

If you want to raise money, lose money, buy a company, sell a company, or hide the fact that you don’t have a viable business plan in the transportation sector, add the word mobility. Mobility is the dumbest word in Silicon Valley, Detroit, and anywhere cars are built or software is written. What is mobility? While everyone hemorrhages cash trying to figure it out, one old-school automaker has unexpectedly put a stake in the ground which shows genuine courage: Cadillac.

The product is called Cadillac Book. It’s a $1,500-per-month subscription service that gives users access to almost any Cadillac—including halo models like the excellent CTS-V—via the Book app. Throw in white-glove delivery service, insurance, registration, taxes, maintenance, unlimited mileage, no long-term commitment, and up to eight vehicle swaps per year, and you have what appears to be an overpriced, long-term car rental.

But it’s much more than that. To understand why Book is so brave and potentially revolutionary, we must define what mobility is, and will be. Continue reading

The NHTSA Report Exonerating Tesla Should Terrify the Auto Sector

24 Jan

NHTSA Report

Last week’s National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) report on Joshua Brown’s fatal Autopilot accident does a lot more than exonerate Tesla. It’s a stamp of approval for Tesla’s entire ecosystem and rollout strategy, from Autopilot to data gathering to wireless updates.

Legacy auto makers should be terrified.

As futurist Brad Templeton points out, NHTSA’s report is so favorable to Tesla, it’s hard to believe it was written by the same government agency whose letter to George Hotz compelled him to cancel the Comma One, the only other semi-autonomous driving technology to approach Tesla’s as of 2016.

NHTSA investigator Kareem Habib dismantles every argument critics and competitors have been firing at Tesla since Autopilot was released in October of 2015. The report is explicit: the Tesla crash rate declined 40% after Autopilot’s release. Tesla’s safety technologies are not defective. Tesla is clear about driver responsibility. Tesla provides clear engagement and disengagement alerts.

Tesla should hire Habib. So should Faraday. This guy knows his way around defending autonomy.

Any hopes the legacy automakers might have had that regulators would throttle or halt Tesla’s progress are now shattered. What appeared to be Tesla’s headlong rush toward autonomy is now a three year head start. Why? Because the old guard were so skeptical of self-driving cars—and so terrified of being the first one to have a fatality with a car even temporarily in control—that they ceded the first round of the autonomy wars to Tesla without a fight. Continue reading

Why Mobility Will Turn Transportation Into Healthcare…

12 Jan

Mobility

TO: Tim Cook, CEO
Apple Computer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
1/2/2023

Re: Apple iMobility Customer Service

Dear Mr. Cook:

I’m writing to you about a problem with my monthly Apple iMobility “MultiPass” subscription service.

The problem is: It sucks.

Let’s start with what Apple promised in its Press Release:

“SAN FRANCISCO — September 8, 2022 — Apple today unveiled Apple iMobility, a single, intuitive app that combines the best ways to get from A to B, all in one place. Apple iMobility is a revolutionary platform aggregating all modes of transportation wherever you live—whether you ride, hail, pool, share or drive—via a convenient flat-rate subscription service, redefining Mobility-as-a-Service…”

One price to get me anywhere in NYC? Everything plus self-driving cabs? Loved the idea. I had lots of choices—DidiMo, Uber, Tesla, Toyota’s CommUt, WayMo, GoNow—but I’d been holding out for Apple. You were late to the game, which meant you were doing it right … right? I was willing to pay a little more for upgraded cars and solo rides, so I happily lined up, in the rain, outside the Soho Apple store for Milla Jovovich to sign my Apple iMobility MultiPass.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Faraday’s Biggest Problem Isn’t The Money

10 Jan

Faraday

Faraday has a big problem, but it’s not their questionable finances.

It’s the car.

The FF-91 reveal was a make-or-break moment for Faraday, and as SNL’s Stefon would say: This place had everything. A billionaire Chinese investor who might be going broke. An automotive startup trying to survive a media witch-hunt. Employees who wanted to talk, but wouldn’t give their names. A shortage of hors d’oeuvres. A Ferrari. A Bentley. A Tesla. A meaningless drag race. An unflappable Englishman who should be CEO but inexplicably isn’t. An engineer in a bad shirt two sizes too small. A sea of foreign media who sat through it all with rictus grins. A car that failed in its moment of truth.

My God. The missing money. The opaque company structure. The over-long reveal. The vague plan. This is what happens when no one is in charge. It wouldn’t matter if Faraday had $10B in the bank. Remove words like mobility and connectivity and what’s left?

Read the rest over at The Drive