Weekly Brief: Fiat, BMW and Ford get real over driverless challenge

Have car giants admitted driverless tech too big to take on alone or too quickly? Andrew Tolve reports on a banner partnership and a 'bale-out'.

Two titans of the automotive world, BMW and Fiat Chrysler, are teaming up to put self-driving cars on the road. Fiat announced last week that it’s joining an existing alliance between BMW and chipmaker Intel to help develop a state-of-the-art autonomous driving platform that can be used by any automaker around the world while maintaining its unique brand identity. Engineers from all three companies will collaborate on the project.

The announcement reflects the growing consensus among tech companies and automakers that partnerships are the best way to handle the financial burden and resource intensiveness of developing self-driving cars. Companies that were once dead set on going it alone (see Alphabet’s Waymo) are now crooning about collaboration. One reason why is that the market for robo-taxis alone is expected to hit $2Trn (£1.55Trn) by 2030 — more than enough cash to divide among a few well aligned partners.

The big loser here seems to be Apple, which had hoped to partner with either BMW or Fiat to build its iCar but this announcement would suggest that both carmakers have ditched Apple in favour of Intel and its more seasoned Mobileye software.

With a similarly refreshing dose of reality, Ford has dropped its goal of delivering a self-driving car for consumers by 2021. The company's newly minted CEO, Jim Hackett,says that while Ford remains committed to developing self-driving technology and vehicles, he does not believe that the future will be dominated by these robot cars — at least not in the consumer segment. So, the company will instead focus on integrating advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous technologies into traditional cars and trucks.

Speaking of trucks, Tesla is scheduled to unveil its new all-electric artic this September and word broke last week that the vehicle will probably include self-driving technology. Tesla is in conversation with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles to begin piloting a self-driving truck on Nevada roads, with the goal of offering the trucking world a long-haul rig that can steer itself and move in platoons. Tesla is also discussing self-driving truck trials with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is piloting the first Autonomous Impact Protection Vehicles (AIPV) in the US. AIPVs are the rigs that trail behind construction crews and inform drivers that they need to switch lanes. They get smashed into hundreds of times a year; there's an accident in a highway work zone every five minutes according to NHTSA. So, an autonomous truck to absorb those crashes and reduce the fatalities that result from them makes good sense. Royal Truck & Equipment is providing the pilot vehicle.

ZenDrive jumping into the consumer cost savings market via a new partnership with mobile app GasBuddy. ZenDrive plans to integrate GasBuddy’s crowdsourced technology, which highlights the best deals on fuel and convenience stores along a journey, into its AI-powered platform thus enabling customers to analyse their behaviour behind the wheel, at the fuel pumps and in the convenience shop, and realise cost savings across the board.

Toyota is piloting a new car-sharing technology in Honolulu with its local distributor in the region Servco Pacific. The technology is a suite of software and services developed in-house at Toyota and supports driver identification and authentication, plus payment and fleet management for car-sharing businesses. Servco is piloting the platform with its employees with the intention of launching a new Honolulu-based car-share business by the end of 2017.

Finally, Nissan is looking to expand its connected car presence in emerging markets. First up India where the carmaker launched its NissanConnect platform last week. The platform has been modified for the Indian market and allows drivers to do everything from hands-free calling to checking social apps to receiving vehicle diagnostic reports to allowing parents to track the whereabouts of their children. The platform will be available across the Nissan range of cars in India.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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