Remaining Relevant

At the end of August, when people are, one would imagine, getting ready to squeeze the last drops of summer out before it gives way to the workaday existence that pretty much characterizes fall, I was the recipient of an incredible number of announcements that all focused on advances in automotive technology.

At the end of August, when people are, one would imagine, getting ready to squeeze the last drops of summer out before it gives way to the workaday existence that pretty much characterizes fall, I was the recipient of an incredible number of announcements that all focused on advances in automotive technology. I should point out that I’m on the receiving end of this on a daily basis, but it seemed all the greater over a few days, and so it began to make me wonder about something.

But first a sense of the announcements.
• Magna: On Tuesday, the 29th of August, it announced that it had made a strategic investment in LiDAR company Innoviz, a company that it has been working with. Presumably, they decided that putting some monies into the arrangement would be mutually beneficial. Then just two days later, Magna announced the MAX4 autonomous driving platform. This is a total package for up to Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities, both in urban and highway settings. MAX4 includes the sensors—yes, LiDAR, as well as radar and optical sensors—as well as the compute platform that makes use of the input. It is said to be designed so that it can be readily integrated into vehicles being developed, but existing vehicles, as well.
• ZF: This company is working hard at developing autonomous driving capabilities. Earlier this year, for example, it announced that it was working with NVIDIA, the company that makes the exceedingly powerful DRIVE PX platform that facilitates deep learning for autonomous functionality. On the 27th it announced that it was selling its Body Control Systems (BCS) business to Luxshare, Ltd. BCS—which, the company said, is operating with “a strong financial foundation,” so we’re not talking about some distress sale here—makes such things as switches, steering column control modules, HVAC controls and other electromechanical products. The next day it announced that it has entered into a strategic research partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, which will focus on computer vision and deep learning. (Incidentally, NVIDIA chips are GPUs, not CPUs: graphics processing unit.
• Cummins: Not only did it announce that it is working on improving its diesel engine offerings (it is scheduled to launch a new heavy-duty diesel for Class 8 trucks in 2022) and that it is developing high-efficiency spark-ignited technology for a variety of fuels, but it unveiled AEOS, a concept Class 7 truck that has a motor driven by a 140-kWh battery pack instead of a 12-cylinder engine. In making the announcement, Rich Freeland, Cummins president and COO, said, “As a global power leader for the commercial and industrial customers we serve, with an unmatched service and support network, we are better positioned than any other company to win in new and emerging technologies and in new markets.” Clearly, not-so-subtle shade directed at the likes of Nikola and Tesla, which are working at electrified big rigs.
• MINI: On the 30th it announced the MINI Electric Concept, an urban vehicle it debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show (a couple weeks later). While details in the early announcement were scant, there was one clue about what the future will hold for the company: According to the company, “In the future, all electrified products from the MINI brand will be grouped together under the 'MINI Electric' banner.” Which evidentially means that the concept car will be one that will launch a series of successors.
• Daimler: Or more to the point, smart. Also on the 30th, that brand announced it would be showing a concept car in Frankfurt, an electric car (30-kWh battery), the smart vision EQ fortwo. But it is far more than just an electric vehicle. Annette Winkler, smart CEO, said, “The smart vision EQ fortwo is our vision of future urban mobility; it is the most radical car sharing concept car of all: fully autonomous, with maximum communication capabilities, friendly, comprehensively personalizable and, of course, electric." That’s right: an autonomous vehicle for two. Just as there was the cute little Google car, presumably the fundamental tiny charm of the fortwo is meant to glom on to some of that Googleness. Daimler, it should be noted, is pursuing an approach that is described by the acronym CASE: Connected, Autonomous, Shared (and Services) and Electric.

So what was I wondering about? Is it possible that one of the drivers for CASE vehicles—and all of the items listed above fall into one or more of those categories—is a recognition or a notion that the generations that will follow the Millennials are going to be somewhat disinterested in vehicles as we’ve known them for the past 100 years, that it will be necessary for them to exist (how are Amazon deliveries going to be made if not with trucks?), but that they need to be substantially different? Is it a case of working toward continued relevance?