Does FCA Have A Secret Self-Driving Car Project?

29 Dec

FCA secret

Fiat Chrysler has a secret self-driving car project, according to The Information, who make the claim in an extraordinarily vague op-ed entitled “Fiat’s Secret Self-Driving Car Shows How The Industry May Evolve.”

So, does FCA actually have a secret self-driving car project?

I’m a big fan of The Information, but there’s so little information in their article that it’s almost impossible to know what FCA has, if anything. Let’s deconstruct the article paragraph by paragraph and try to separate fact from conjecture.

“Fiat Chrysler has garnered outsized headlines for becoming the first traditional carmaker to make electric minivans with self-driving technology designed by Alphabet’s Waymo.”

Fact. Not a surprise as much as an insurance policy against total irrelevance in an autonomous future. FCA had never previously admitted to the existence of any self-driving research program, so any deal with Waymo opens the door for them to become Waymo’s automotive Foxconn, a role Daimler famously rejected but FCA would seem to need.

“Behind the scenes, however, Fiat Chrysler is developing its own autonomous vehicles so that it won’t be just a metal bender for tech companies like Waymo, The Information has learned.”

Really? This suggests FCA has a real program, as in a team capable building a self-driving car, which means they now join the other thirteen major manufacturers with a similar program with varying degrees of progress.

Or does it?

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why “Tesla Killers” Were the Biggest Disappointment of 2016

27 Dec

Tesla Killers

Without a doubt, “Tesla Killers” are the biggest disappointment of 2016.

It’s been more than fifty years since self-driving cars first appeared in science fiction films, 26 years since Johnny Cab’s cameo in Total Recall, 20+ years since manufacturers began developing prototypes, 12 years since the first DARPA Challenge, and 16 months since Tesla released their semi-autonomous Autopilot.

Self-driving cars? No one can claim they were a surprise.

But wait, there’s more.

It’s almost 150 years since the first electric car, 120 years since the first swappable battery service, 115 years since the first electric taxis in London, 50+ years of increasingly toxic dependency on Middle Eastern “allies”, 40 years since the OPEC crisis, 37 years since the Iranian Revolution, 25 years since Desert Storm, 16 years since 9/11, and 13 years since the invasion of Iraq.

Internal combustion won for a variety of reasons, but the big one—reliable flow of cheap oil—has been evaporating for decades. No one claim the rising appeal of electrification is a surprise.

But wait, there’s more.

It’s been 118 years since the first car dealership opened in the Unites States, and it’s been downhill ever since. Have you ever met anyone who loved their car dealer? People hate them. Nearly 75% of buyers would prefer to do their shopping online, and yet manufacturers have negotiated themselves into a corner, trapping end-users in a debilitating relationship with dealers who serve no one well.

But wait, there’s more.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What The Honda/Waymo Partnership Really Means

22 Dec

Waymo

Honda and Waymo, the self-driving car company from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google), have announced a partnership—specifically, according to the press release, a “technical collaboration of fully self-driving automobile technology”. But what does that mean, exactly?

This: The self-driving car dam is breaking, if it hasn’t broken already. If you’re a car company without a self-driving car program, or if after billions of dollars of R&D yours doesn’t do what Google’s does … Waymo is the answer.

You don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that while Tesla and Uber have been grabbing all the headlines, Google/Alphabet has long had the world’s most advanced self-driving car program. Since its 2009 inception, speculation about their intentions has been rampant.

Now, we can get a sense of what they’re up to.

We know that Waymo, Alphabet’s recently announced self-driving spinoff, has gathered 2M+ miles of high-resolution driving data, the majority of it in Northern California. Tesla has orders of magnitude more, but they don’t use LIDAR, which skeptics believe is essential for full self-driving capabilities. We know Waymo’s parent possesses virtually unlimited resources and data on individual search, shopping habits, and location. We know that Wayno is hiring experts in licensing. We know that, prior to its spinoff, Waymo had approached multiple manufacturers about partnerships, presumably to license their software platform in return for user data, perhaps even to control the in-car content ecosystem (think: self-driving car “drivers” watching the newest Hollywood blockbuster via Google Play).

There’s incredible value on both ends of that continuum. Every Honda mile driven with Waymo’s platform gathers priceless data, improving the platform. On the other end, control the content ecosystem, control the data, own the user, print money.

There’s a reason your phone almost certainly runs Android or iOS. Remember Nokia? Blackberry?

Read the rest over at The Drive

Lucid Motors Reveals Their Tesla-Killer—But Is it, Really?

15 Dec

Lucid Air

The stench of “mobility” was pierced today, as California-based Lucid Motors revealed the Air, a stunning $100,000+ electric sedan hailed as a “Tesla-killer.”

But is it?

The answer is no, because the Lucid Air is deliberately in a class of its own.

First, the Lucid Motors Air is gorgeous. For the first time since the release of the Tesla Model S, we have a clean-sheet design for an electric sedan that doesn’t include stupid neon green or blue accents to indicate environmental cred. The Air isn’t some Wall-E inspired, emasculatory blob on wheels penned by the guy from The Kooples. Primed by last year’s stillborn Faraday reveal, I walked into the Lucid event ready for disappointment, but when the spotlights fell upon the Air I joined the crowd of reporters quietly mouthing “Yeeeeeeees.”

Lucid’s “luxury mobility” messaging may resemble Tesla’s, but that’s only because Musk was first to recognize the hinges upon which a startup car company must swing: 1.) you must launch with a premium product; 2.) electrification, connectivity, and autonomy will be ubiquitous.

With the Air, Lucid wisely chose to one-up Tesla, not by trying to build a better Model S, but by moving “luxury mobility” even further upmarket. The top-of-the-line Air is targeted at the Model S customer who wants more interior space and luxury, doesn’t want an SUV, and is willing to spend $160,000—or approximately 10 percent more than a loaded Model X.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Who Is The Theranos of Mobility?

13 Dec

Theranos

Theranos is a classic tale of hubris and schadenfreude, a blood-testing tech company that generated massive press, with a female CEO straight out of Gattaca who attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, that is now imploding because its technology never worked.

Every sector gets its Theranos—so, who is the Theranos of the mobility space?

The answer starts with “mobility,” a word that bores me to tears. What does mobility mean? I’m already mobile; Americans are among the most mobile in the world, but in transportation, mobility ≠ “Mobility”, the new buzzword for companies that don’t have clear strategies in a world of increasing connectivity, autonomy, and electrification. (Case in point: BMW has for the last few years been beating the drum that they are no longer a car manufacturer, but a “mobility provider”—whatever that means.)

Mobility is used so broadly that it has become meaningless, and yet billions of dollars are flowing into disparate companies converging on what they hope will be a pot of gold, but will more likely be an expensive grave.

Bubble, thy name is Mobility. The criteria? Big fundraising, big name investors, beaucoup press, and the high expectations that come with big promises.

Let’s take a look at our candidates, courtesy of a flood of suggestions that came in when I posed the question online. Let’s start with the ride-hailing business, dominated by what are called TNCs, or Transportation Network Companies.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What Happens When Software Based Car Companies Die?

12 Dec

Software

The death of Pebble, one of the better known smartwatch brands, highlights a looming problem not just for early adopters of the latest technology, but for any adopters. What happens when a software based car company dies?

The same thing that happens when any software based company goes under.

You’re screwed. Or are you?

The degree of screwing depends on you. A Pebble watch that retails for $50-$150? Charge it and it will still tell the time. Those extra fitness features you paid for? Watch wearers lived without them for 99% of the history of watchmaking. I know lots of healthy people who’ve never heard of a Pebble, or a Fitbit, or any of the technologies supposed to “help” you get and stay fit. You know what else works? When your Pebble dies, go get a $10 Timex, a pencil and some paper.

Let’s apply this logic to software-based cars.

Every car on the road today has tons of software. Mountains. Exponentially more than the Space Shuttle and the Apollo moon missions. Most of that software is irrelevant to the basic purpose of cars. We’ve been building cars that get from A to B for 100 years, 75 of which required little to no software. Some software is useful, like the software behind Anti-Lock Brakes. Some of it is really useful, like that behind distance-sensing cruise control, but guess what? You don’t need any of it to get from A to B. Sure, it might get you from A to B more safely—and in some cases more conveniently—but none of it is essential.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What if the Autonomous Car Industry Is Wrong?

7 Dec

Autonomous

Do you spend time in Silicon Valley or Detroit? If you don’t, know that most conversations involve these talking points: Autonomous cars are inevitable. Almost here. Will be ubiquitous. Save lives. Reduce traffic. Cut pollution. Also, mobility. And sharing. And no one will own cars. FYI, Don’t buy Tesla. Tesla sucks. Wait for our stuff.

“Never assume,” my father always said, so let’s follow his advice, deconstruct the clickbait underlying much of the autonomous driving narrative, and ask the question:

What if the autonomous car industry is wrong?

First we have to answer this: What is the autonomous car industry? On one side, we have the universe of Silicon Valley companies trying to figure out how to monetize an immature technology. On the other, we have the universe of legacy car companies terrified the upstarts are going to leave them behind. Since no one knows when or how it will be possible to monetize autonomous cars, they’re investing billions in anything with the words Autonomy or Mobility, catchphrases of a seemingly inevitable future they don’t understand.

Are autonomous cars inevitable? Of course. A self-driving car that works on the streets of Mountain View in decent weather? Google has them now. A self-driving car that is 100% guaranteed never to make a mistake, anywhere, in any condition? Not in my lifetime, and I’m not that old.

The billion-dollar question is—

Read the rest over at The Drive

Traffic Neutrality Is The New Net Neutrality

5 Dec

Traffic Neutrality

Have you heard of Traffic Neutrality? Of course not, because I made it up to describe a looming problem no one is talking about, a problem that will annihilate car culture in the same way the end of Net Neutrality will gut access to all but the largest media entities.

If you equate driving with freedom, then you need to wake up, because the assault on that freedom is already underway.

It isn’t coming from self-driving cars. It’s coming from that as-yet undefined thing called Mobility, and it won’t stop until you are forced to pay for freedoms you currently enjoy for free.

To understand the fight, we need to define terms. Let’s start with Mobility—the true enemy of car culture.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Can We Please Stop Pretending Car Hacking Is a Grave Threat?

30 Nov

Hacking

Are you scared of your car getting hacked? The term “hacking” is so broad—and its use in clickbait headlines so vague—as to be meaningless. When was the last time you heard of someone’s car actually being hacked? You haven’t, except for examples which have virtually no bearing on real life.

Your car is as likely to get hacked as you are to get Ebola. Actually, that isn’t true—thousands of people caught Ebola last year. How many private citizens’ cars were hacked? As many as were eaten by Kraken, which is to say, none.

The good news? The nightmare car hack (see below) hasn’t happened. At least not yet. Connected car technologies that will open the door to hacking aren’t quite as connected as headlines would have us believe.

The bad news? The law of unintended consequences means connected cars will almost certainly give rise to new forms of aggravation.

We’re not there yet, but when they arrive we’re going to miss the old days, when car hacking was known by its original name: car theft.

Read the rest over at The Drive

First Look: What George Hotz Will Probably Announce Tomorrow

29 Nov

George Hotz

Don’t believe everything you read in the media.” – George Hotz, 11/29/2016

George Hotz — the infamous hacker known for unlocking the iPhone, reverse engineering the Playstation 3, turning down a job offer from Elon Musk, and almost launchingthe world’s fanciest cruise control”, A.K.A. the Comma One, an aftermarket Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) he claimed would replicate Tesla Autopilot for $1000 — is back.

Is he BACK back? He’s certainly up to something, because at 1358hr EST today he tweeted the following, along with a video we’re going to analyze:

Read the rest over at The Drive