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

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

What The Honda/Waymo Partnership Really Means

22 Dec


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