Preparing for the Mobility Revolution
Highlights from CES, Detroit Auto Show and AutomobiliD
January has become an intense month for auto tech in the US, with CES first, then the Detroit Auto Show (or NAIAS) along with the Motown’s more tech-oriented AutomobiliD. The development of new tech is certainly not slowing down in the mobility space, whether at the initiative of incumbent players, tech giants or startups. Let’s review the key messages and take-aways from these events from a mobility / automotive stand point.
The 2018 edition of the most massive tech show lined up almost 4,000 exhibitors and was attended by about 200,000 people, a third of which originating from outside the US. Among the exhibitors were about 900 startups. The most represented countries were the US, then France (each close to 300) then far behind the Netherlands and China (about 50 each). The trends observed in recent years were visible once again: more startups, more artificial intelligence and more automotive / mobility.
The increased role of mobility made its way into the event’s keynotes. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich showcased the company’s firepower across many industries, then brought a self-driven Ford Fusion to present Mobileye’s forays into mobility. The Israeli company, acquired by Intel in 2017 for $15b, announced new OEM partnerships to deploy their camera-based road scanning solution, REM. The 2 million vehicles to be fitted with REM by end 2018 will provide critical mass to crowd-source maps for autonomous driving purposes. Krzanich’s keynote ended with a very short flight of the eVTOL created by Volocopter, a German startup in which Daimler invested $25m last year. Intel does not want to miss out on any key emerging mobility solutions.
Ford CEO Jim Hackett’s focused his keynote on the company’s effort to better integrate mobility and smart cities in the future. Cities have started to react to the disruption caused by ride-hailing and free float bike sharing services and realize they must prepare for autonomous driving. Ford has understood the need to cooperate with city planners to optimize the impact of new services on cityscapes. Ford’s solution will rely in part on their future connected-V2X and urban mobility platforms to better serve mobility needs.
Artificial Intelligence's (AI) pervasiveness was visible not only at many startups, (some of which mention AI because it is fashionable!) but also at an increasing number of incumbent players, across pretty much all industries. This is certainly true in mobility. AI deployment was integral to a number of emerging value propositions, from predictive maintenance, to passenger monitoring and well being, EV charging optimization or fleet optimization as well as in the deployment of digital assistants in vehicles. AI is of course essential for the development of autonomous vehicles (AV). As seen at many startups and established companies alike, AI is at the core of AV platforms, including in the cumbersome task of teaching AVs to recognize a pedestrian, a road sign, etc.
Several traditional OEMs were present, but I will only mention four here. Daimler showcased the Mercedes EQA concept, a 2-door EV which will likely be priced close to Tesla’s Model 3 when introduced around 2020, and the Smart EQ concept, a level 5 version of its urban car; both have been presented at previous events. Mercedes also introduced MBUX, its new user interface. It uses 2 wide, side-by-side displays, which are highly customizable, controllable from either the steering wheel, a touch pad on central console and the capacitive display itself (right side only). This rather impressive system will appear in 2018 on the E Class.
Toyota introduced e‐Palette, a self-driving concept EV (see picture) which the OEM will start testing in the early 2020s. Toyota is working with Amazon, Didi, Uber and others towards the launch of a mobility service business for either people or goods, along with a suite of connected solutions. At Denso’s booth I spotted a concept remote diagnostic and predictive maintenance solution, which the Tier 1 is probably preparing for the e-Palette in the mid-2020s.
Nissan presented its autonomous, electric IMx concept with retractable steering wheel and pedals (first shown in Tokyo last year). The company also introduced “brain-to-vehicle,” a solution aimed at increasing safety by detecting decisions via brain waves 0.2-0.5 seconds before actions are taken. This innovative approach was showcased with headgear and is expected to be integrated in Level 4-5 AV system in 5-10 yrs.
Surprisingly, BMW positioned the brand this year as “the driving machine,” making a drifting M5 the center piece at their test area. This was somewhat at odds with otherwise tech-biased messages elsewhere.
In the tech giants’ corner, Nvidia and Intel/Mobileye seemed to be on a collision course. Nvidia has established a dominant position in AV computing hardware with its GPU-based Drive PX and is strengthening this position by building the Inception Program ecosystem. It is also moving into software applications for self-driving assistance (early revenue stream) and may later develop a full AV stack. Mobileye has a dominant position in the detection of objects and lanes from camera images with REM, its software on chip which also provides crowdsourcing of map data (see above). Intel/Mobileye is developing Auto Drive, its CPU-based AV stack to be introduced in 2021 as Level 3 for public use and Level 4 for fleets. Reported customers include BMW, FCA, NIO and SAIC. Forty test vehicles are being launched with BMW to train the AI for Intel’s AV solution.
Mobility-related startups offered a wide variety of products or services. These ranged from sensors (essentially lidars), to autonomous driving for cars and trucks, mapping, parking apps, fleet management, emotion and posture analysis, e-ticketing for public transport, driver monitoring, connectivity (on- and off-board), remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance, insurance-related products, various connected services, etc. This gave me a chance to add a number of interesting new entries to my database of over 400 startups in the mobility space.
Emerging OEMs were also at CES, though with less fanfare as last year when Faraday Future presented FF91. This year, FF was off site after adjusting their ambition due to financing issues. It was Byton’s turn (formerly Future Mobility Corp., with Chinese financing as well) to present their first vehicle. The fully electric SUV, developed by teams in China, Silicon Valley and Munich, is expected to launch in China in 2019 for the equivalent of $45k, then in the US in 2020. It is fitted with an impressive instrument panel developed with Faurecia, which includes a pillar-to-pillar, 1.25m long display — see picture. Xiaopeng Motors (or Xpeng), an other Chinese newcomer, presented a fully electric SUV. They just closed a $350m financing round led by e-commerce giant Alibaba and Foxconn, the powerful maker of iPhones and other electronic devices. Interesting combination of investors.
CES was again the stage for real life demos of autonomous vehicles. Lyft and Aptiv (ex Delphi) partnered to offer self-driving ride-share services on several streets in Las Vegas. The tech is far from mature enough to allow AVs to roam freely: the two companies spent a couple of months planning and mapping the geofenced area of operation. In parallel, Navya showcased Autonom Cab, its new fully autonomous, 6-passenger shuttle. Keolis and AAA have been operating a previous version of the French company’s vehicle on the streets of Las Vegas since November.
After Las Vegas’s CES, Detroit’s NAIAS and AutomobiliD
One week apart, the events and the two cities are widely different. The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) remains totally at odds with CES. No tech at NAIAS. This dealer-sponsored auto show is all about selling what’s on the shelf. Of course there was nothing on AVs and very, very little on electrified vehicles. Instead, more SUVs/crossovers, and bigger and more expensive pickup trucks, i.e. up to $100k!
A bright spot from my standpoint: the electrification of AMG. Daimler’s performance brand introduced a new powertrain, the “53 Series”, which combines a turbocharged 3.0l in-line six (429 hp, 520 N.m) with an electric motor. The latter adds a marginal 21hp but a very significant boost in torque with an extra 250 N.m, or close to +50%, of course available from 0 rpm. AMG is moving from “big displacement for power” to “electrification for torque.” Newton meters (or foot pounds) are what matters most in the end. The 53 Series is initially available on E and CLS classes, but we should expect more such powertrain variants to drive all types of vehicles, including performance ones. By the way, Porsche is also increasingly associating electrification with performance.
At the other end of the spectrum came Guangzhou Auto Co., or GAC with its “Trumpchi” branded vehicles. The Chinese company presented 8 production vehicles, i.e. 4 SUVs, 3 sedans (incl one battery EV) and one minivan, as well as a concept EV. GAC, which produced 500k vehicles in 2016, will introduce the Chinese-produced Trumpchi GS8, an SUV, in the US in 2019. Not sure if the brand name will be used int the US though!
I was also surprised by the presence of Aramco. The Saudi oil and gas giant is obviously seeing the electrification of mobility as a major threat, though it will take a couple of decades before the global automotive fleet is massively powered by electrons. Showcasing an opposed pistons, self igniting test engine from partner Achates, Aramco promoted combustion engine research as a pathway to improve fuel economy, with the intent to licence combustion tech to OEMs.
This was the second year for AutomobiliD, Detroit’s tech show located underneath NAIAS. Whereas ZF, Michelin, Denso and Aisin had booths within the auto show, the tech-oriented floor gathered close to 60 startups and several incumbent Tier 1s, incl. Valeo, Aptiv, Magna or Magneti Marelli. Coming from many countries, the startups covered various spaces within mobility, including autonomous driving (eg Ouster), electrification (eg Cryptowatt), autonomous shuttles (May Mobility), maintenance (eg Carfit), connectivity (eg Lisnr), fleet management (eg Vulog) or smart cities (eg Connecthings). Organizers also planned an interesting series of talks and panels. This is a promising event for the coming years, and certainly a good thing for Michigan.
Overall, CES, and AutomobiliD to a lesser extent, continue to shed light on where mobility is going, i.e. electric, connected and shared in the short term, and progressively automated over the next 10 of so years. And NAIAS is showing us how OEMs and auto suppliers are covering (part of) the development cost for the underlying tech. Exciting future ahead!
Managing Director, Orsay Consulting