Tech will continue to spur changes among carmakers

Matt Jones, director of future technology at Jaguar Land Rover, kicked off the second day of TU-Automotive Detroit 2016 by telling a story about consumer perception. He said that consumers in India expect to see the same technology in a $3,000 (£2,070) Tata Nano as they would a $200,000 Range Rover. This is owing entirely to the mobile computing experience delivered by smartphones but it poses new challenges for automakers.

Jones asked: “How can we move towards meeting these customer expectations?” He said it starts by understanding how fast technology evolves. He noted that the iPhone came out nine years ago and pointed out where the industry is today: surrounded by technology and a craving for in-car features and apps. The evolution is bound to continue, which is why he thinks it’s important for automakers to be very flexible in their future plans.

Said Jones: “We don’t have one product roadmap for 2025 – we have this whole range of different things that we could offer. As we get closer, we pare that down. We’re not afraid to kill projects. I know other big OEMs still have one vision 10 years out. How can we improve that? How can we change the mind sets of some of these organisations to accept that we’re going to be disrupted?”

Disruption from the consumers

“If I lived in San Francisco today, I’m not sure that I would own a car,” Jones added. “It would not be useful. We talk to a lot of our customers now in Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, Mumbai and other places. They’re not particularly worried that in the future their children don’t want to own cars. They see transportation as a way from getting from A to B. Ideally, in those vehicles, they want to be using their devices.”

John Schnoes, programme director of vehicle information technology and autonomous drive at Nissan, is also trying to focus on what consumers want as the industry evolves. He said: “Customers are asking for safety. They’re asking for a truly stress-free environment. They’re asking for free time but, at the same time, we know the people who are driving Nissans still really love to enjoy driving pleasure. How do we create a system that is inside of the vehicle, seamlessly go from autonomous to a manual driving mode that our customers are really wanting to enjoy?”

Automotive’s biggest disrupter

During a panel with inductees of the 2016 TU-Automotive Hall of Fame, moderator and TU-Automotive managing director Gareth Ragg asked: “In the next five years, who do you see being the biggest disrupter in the auto space?” The response was split down the middle between Apple and Google.

“If you look at Apple’s development environment and what it has created, they have created mechanisms so that they can allow their developers to very quickly develop new technologies,” said Charles Link, founder and CTO of M2MD Technologies. “Not to mention that they have billions of dollars in the bank ready to go.”

Ragg followed his question by asking the hall of famers if they think that Silicon Valley will leave Detroit behind.

“To run a search engine or a company that makes handsets is completely different than creating an object that the misuse – or the decay of it – can kill you,” said Scott McCormick, president of the Connected Vehicle Trade Association. He believes that while Silicon Valley is indeed the innovator, it is not the leader.

Kevin Link, founder and chief creative officer of Convey LLC, highly recommended a visit to Silicon Valley. He said: “You need to put that on your list. The Valley is full of events. You’ll come back completely invigorated and you’ll ask yourself, ‘Who is leading these innovations? Is it Detroit or the Valley?’ It’s gonna take both but if you want to see creativity and innovation far faster than you can see it in this city, go spend a week.”

During a panel on how new mobility is reinventing the org chart, Ford’s Mike Tinskey said that many auto companies have already established research facilities or labs in Silicon Valley.

“We use it as a scouting lab as well as a lab to try new things out,” said Tinskey, who serves as Ford’s global director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure. “That’s been a really neat experience because the number of companies we’re interfacing with has gone up exponentially.”

Attracting new talent

Technological limitations are often cited as the auto industry’s biggest challenges but automakers are also dealing with a shortage of new talent. Instead of going from college to Detroit, many grads think the best jobs are with the biggest tech companies.

Tinskey has experienced this first hand while recruiting at his alma mater, Georgia Tech. He said it is challenging to go up against established tech giants.

“You can see that at the career fairs – the line for Facebook is wrapped around,” said Tinskey. “We have to change the way we show what we’re working on. When you get in front of students and you start talking about the things that you’re doing and the type of disruption that’s going on in this industry, it’s almost immediate that they’re like, ‘Wow!’ They had no idea, they’d love to come join.”

It’s not easy to get the word out. While automakers are quickly transforming into tech companies, Tinskey said that tech companies have been promoting their brands – both as great places to work and as places for innovation – for years.

“They have a whole culture established,” said Tinskey. “The students migrate there without thinking. [Getting] that core talent will take a cross-industry effort of education awareness [and] telling students what they can work on as we go through this change.”

Dan Ratliff, an associate at Fontinalis Partners, said that students value the careers and start-up potential they get out of Silicon Valley. He said: “You’re always continuously seeing people spinning out and starting their own start-ups. If you start seeing that happen from some of the OEMs, I think they’ll become sexy. I think as they become more technology and software companies, you’ll start to see that. And then I think that’ll help spur that movement and the sense that it’s got a little more of an entrepreneurial feel.”

Catch up with TU-Automotive Detroit 2016 Day 1

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *