The costly race to the autonomous car


Without a doubt one of the major trends in the automotive world for this century is driving autonomous, that will allow a revolution in the mobility, you can embark on the road people who do not want, can not or do not want to drive, without the need of a driver. Is more, there will be models that have neither steering wheel, nor pedals, means of transport, pure.

Currently, there is a technology in production that will allow to do such a thing without the supervision of a human drivers. Yes there are dozens of prototypes valued at hundreds of thousands of euros on which there is a sophisticated hardware, a sophisticated -but precarious- software, and one or two engineers ready to take the wheel at any time.

The sensors (hardware) allow you to “see” the vehicle, and the programming (software) takes decisions on the basis of these sensors

there Will be autonomous cars, that nobody can doubt it, the million dollar question is when, is at what cost… and I add more: who are going to ruin it in the attempt? This race is taking a cost of tens of billions of euros and nor these figures so fabulous guarantee anything. There are several manufacturers that give dates from 2020, and the legislation is in its infancy almost all over the planet in this regard.


The prototype of Citroën Grand C4 Picasso self-contained PSA carries all this paraphernalia in the trunk. All that you have to miniaturize, it is unacceptable to go around without a trunk

According to the consulting firm, AlixPartners LLP, are already participating in this technology war more than 50 companies. Not only car manufacturers -new and traditional-there are also automotive suppliers and technology companies that have not had a single car marketable.

according to the study published by this firm, of all the pasture that is being invested in driving autonomous, approximately 90% is going to be a waste of resources financial, technical and human. In other words, the most you’re wasting your time, but don’t know it.

there are Already several systems on the market of high range that allow the driver to release the hands from the steering wheel in conditions of movement on concrete, but always keeping the eyes on the road if you take the controls. According to a certain point of view, it is as if the work was done in half, or it may be much less. As there are always a human, the entire case is resolved.


Prototype of Ford Fusion (Mondeo american) self

of course traditional manufacturers are investigating this technology, serve as examples Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Ford, General Motors, Volvo, Tesla (what we consider traditional now, right?), PSA… unlike other big issues, just find arrangements to save development costs in the form of joint-ventures.

Fundamentally each one makes war on its own

In another step we have to suppliers more important, see Valeo, Autoliv, Magna, Delphi, Bosch… These companies have the hope to be able to have a product that is marketable to several brands at the same time, and thus be able to spread the cost of development in a number of units much higher. In addition, suppliers are becoming more powerful, the manufacturers tend to be assemblers of parts made by third parties.

Finally we have tech giants like Apple, Microsoft, Baidu, Nvidia, Intel, Uber, or Waymo, that can be spent obscene amounts of money to invest. For example, Apple does not have to allocate resources to develop electric cars, or clean diesel, or how to meet future regulations, collision avoidance, or renewed models. Apple has so pasta-exaggerating – don’t know what to do with it.


Waymo is doing tests with Chrysler Pacifica hybrids

Yes we can more easily find alliances between traditional manufacturers and technology companies, a symbiosis in which each one contributes what he knows best to do: “we take the car, you stuff”. Another way is to acquire emerging companies (or start-ups) before they are too expensive as to absorb them.

In this immediate future of the technological domain there are no recipes to secure, or betting infallible. For reasons I don’t understand, has formed an alliance multi-brand to launch the hydrogen car (fuel cell), but is not doing that for driving autonomous. Could it be that no one wants to share a future competitive advantage with the others?

A collaboration between manufacturers would save tens of billions of euros in synergies

The largest manufacturers themselves have easy to squander money in this technology race, but the medium and small will be forced to buy technology to third parties for not being able to cope with the enormous costs that will involve. But we do well to ask another thing: how much clientele have?

Demonstration of the auto-pilot Tesla in tests

Suppose that in a few years is available for the C-segment (compact) the possibility to equip a driving system autonomous for a reasonable price, say € 3,000 for the sensors and all the algorithms that makes it work. Is it too much money to ask for 3,000 euros more in a compact for a function that will be used sporadically?

there Will be those who think that yes, that’s worth for a few times a year, and there will be those who think that no, that is too much money for a function dispensable. Will be more eager to pay those who have trouble driving as one who has a withdrawal card is prolonged, a progressive loss of faculties (cataracts, epilepsy, drowsiness, chronic…), advanced age, any handicap…

Probably take a long time to recover the investment, the driving autonomous is a thing that people are willing to pay up to a certain point, and that market is going to have insurance, but not short-term. For example, a Tesla Model S allows you to equip by 9.300 plus the complete autopilot (level 5 SAE), of course, is not yet completed. You can add a posteriori for 11.500 euros, when it is already mature.

And now I ask you: how you’d spend that money so that your car can take you, or you think that you can pay a few taxi races with that money? Server has it very clear.