Over the past two days, I’ve taken a look first at how automotive technology from autonomous vehicles to smart mobility has taken over CES and become the stars of a technology show and next at why this is happening and why both the automotive and technology industries are embracing the partnerships that are driving fast-paced change in both industries. Today, to wrap up the series, I’ll put on my swami hat and look into the future of both industries as well as for us as consumers and even society as a whole.
A Look Ahead
I talked in the last post about the significant partnerships between leading automakers like Audi, General Motors, Volvo, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and others, and technology Nvidia, powerhouses like Google, Apple, Amazon, and Lyft, among others. The technology industry and the automotive industry, after years of perhaps regarding one another warily, have embraced each other like long lost siblings — much to each other’s benefit.
What will this mean for the future? In terms of technology, look for more partnerships between Detroit/Tokyo/Germany and Silicon Valley. I don’t think the technology companies like Apple or Google will really make a serious push to develop their own vehicles, no matter what Elon Musk says. It’s harder than it looks (just ask Tesla), and most technology companies recognize their core competencies and may not want to risk getting established in a wholly different industry. (Yes, I do realize that Apple in particular has a successful track record of getting into industries they weren’t in before — music and phones, anyone? — but mass production of heavy industrial products is far more costly and materials-intensive than digital files of music or building a phone.) Apple may keep experimenting (as might Google) and produce limited editions of electric cars, but I don’t see them entering the mass market automobile business.
Instead, I expect that the big tech companies to continue to license their EV or smart mobility technology to the automakers who will be willing to pay for it — kind of like “Intel Inside,” it will be a selling point to have Apple or Google or Amazon technology inside your car. This would allow the tech companies to extend their operating systems and technologies into the next big consumer smart device, without having to invest in manufacturing and industrial capital.
Look for joint R&D and deeper integration between the two industries as the partnerships deepen and the products become more intertwined. Look for faster advancement than we’ve been promised — because once technology and automotive join forces fully, they’re going to drive change at previously unthinkable pace.
The technology industry has already engineered three wholescale revolutions in how we live in one generation — with the introduction of the personal computer 35 years ago, the rise of the mass internet and the World Wide Web in the early 1990s, and again with the smartphone revolution of the past ten years. Now, working with the automotive industry, we’re about to see a fourth revolution: the first transformative changes to the in-car experience and the way we drive in generations.
On a societal note, there’s an economic side effect of all of this integration that excites me as a resident of Metro Detroit, and I hope excites most Americans who’d like to see a once downtrodden American city revitalized. Look for the Detroit metropolitan area to attract a mini-industry of engineers, computer scientists, developers, and more — providing a much-needed boost, and much-needed diversification, to the area’s economy — as the development teams from technology companies and automakers become more entwined. There may even be a new “nerd bird” airline route: from San Jose or San Francisco to Detroit. The impact on the southeast Michigan economy could be profound, and while there is already something of a revival happening in Detroit already, the infusion of talent and energy from the technology industry as it partners with auto could take it to another level entirely and make Detroit “the” comeback city of the first half of the 21st century. Other auto manufacturing centers in the United States, like Alabama (Hyundai), Nashville (Nissan), and South Carolina (BMW) should also benefit from this infusion of exciting new talent.
From a communications and storyline standpoint, look for automotive to continue growing as the primary application of technological advancement. CES is now more important to the automotive industry than it is to the electronics industry — and the CES headlines from 2017, 2018, and 2019 will continue to be, er, driven by the automotive industry. Look for tech reporters to show up at the Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and Geneva auto shows because these events are now must-attends on the tech beat. Look for automakers to tout internet speeds as much as they tout 0-60 times, and to boast of the power of their technology like they’ve always boasted of torque ratios and horsepower.
Rarely have two industries converged on such a similar flashpoint of transformative change. It’s an exciting time — for innovators and leaders in each industry alike, and for we the consumers who stand to benefit from this convergence.