The Future Is Now. Right Now.

“There are no two companies that can claim to have done more for automotive safety worldwide than Autoliv and Volvo.”

Right now, it is a letter of intent, a legal formality.  But the momentum of technology—and society—is behind this and things like it in such a way that the intention will soon become reality.

Autoliv and Volvo Cars have agreed to form a jointly-owned company to develop the next generation of autonomous driving (AD) software.

This is a big deal.  Sure, companies form all the time.  But when there are two companies with the depth of knowledge and depth of capabilities that Autoliv and Volvo have in AD, then the level of feasibility of AD grows exponentially.  And given the aggressive timeline they’re proposing, there are other companies—suppliers and OEMs alike—that are going to have to recalibrate their efforts.

A couple of interesting points about these two companies.  One is that Autoliv is a leader in automotive safety systems, which includes airbags, vision systems and software and much more.

One of the big concerns vis-à-vis autonomous driving is safety.  And here we have one of the companies that has profound expertise in automotive safety systems entering into the formation of a company with an automaker with the explicit goal of creating advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving technologies.

Then there’s Volvo.  Here’s the auto company that has explicitly stated that no one will be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo by 2020.  If you do the math, that’s not that long in the future.  This past August Volvo announced that it is working with Uber on autonomous driving technology, and it is in the process of working with Chinese officials to launch a test fleet of up to 100 autonomous vehicles in that country.  In April it announced "Drive Me London,” which will start early next year with real families in semi-autonomous vehicles, and then go to fully autonomous vehicles in 2018.

“Drive Me” has had cars on the roads of Gothenburg since 2014.

While there is often a lot of over-the-top rhetoric from executives when it comes to announcements of things like the formation of this new company (which will be headquartered in Gothenburg), this is a case where what the people are saying has high levels of legitimacy:

Jan Carlson, chairman, CEO and president of Autoliv: “There are no two companies that can claim to have done more for automotive safety worldwide than Autoliv and Volvo. This new company is a recognition of the fact that autonomous driving is the next step to transform road safety.”

They can claim it.  And arguably justify it.

Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Car Group: “By combining our know-how and resources we will create a world leader in AD software development. This means we can introduce this exciting technology to our customers faster.”

Faster?  Those guys are already on the proverbial fast track.

The plan for the new company has the development of the software being not only used by Volvo for its autonomous driving, but Autoliv will be making this technology available to other automakers throughout the world for their autonomous driving efforts.

The two firms anticipate that they’ll have ADAS products ready for sale by 2019 and AD by 2021.

This is not R&D.  This is a company that is going to be developing salable products.

Of course, there’s the legal caveat: “The non-binding letter of intent is subject to further negotiations and the parties reaching a final definitive agreement, and there is no guarantee that any definitive agreement will be reached or that the forming of the joint venture contemplated by the non-binding letter of intent will occur.”

But you know that it is going to happen.

Just as you have to know that come 2021 the auto world is going to be profoundly changed.

If you want to get a better handle on that, you might want to attend a one-day conference that we are holding with our sister publication AutoBeat Daily, “Automobility ’16,” on October 13 in Dearborn, Michigan.  There, autonomy and mobility will be examined from a number of perspectives, from the technological to the financial to the legal.

And you can learn more about it here.