Who Will Make The 'Brain' Of The Autonomous Car?

Illustration for article titled Who Will Make The 'Brain' Of The Autonomous Car?

Good Morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.


1st Gear: BMW Goes After Startups Too

Like General Motors, Ford and many others, BMW is also looking to acquire technology startups in the race to build autonomous cars. Why do it yourself when you can simply buy a Silicon Valley company already doing it, right?

As BMW’s i division shifts away from electrics and hybrids toward building autonomous vehicles, the automaker as a whole is after startups to build the brain of the next great self-driving car, reports Bloomberg:

The German automaker is pushing to acquire startups, partner with tech companies and hire talent to build an electronic brain for next-generation vehicles, Klaus Froehlich, BMW AG’s head of development, said in an interview in Munich. At stake is billions of euros in potential profit as value in the auto industry gradually shifts to autonomous taxis.

“There’s a power play going on with other companies buying up software competencies at a fast clip,” Froehlich said. “We definitely need partners in this area, and we massively need to build out in-house resources too.”

BMW is positioning itself for a future when profit comes more from providing transport than selling vehicles. The luxury-auto market leader faces a particularly tough challenge because it has built its identity around driving performance. Robo-taxis will make up 40 percent of automotive profits by 2030, the biggest single source of money to be made, according to consulting company Roland Berger.

BMW has its eyes on the future of ride-sharing, ride-hailing and autonomous taxis more than most, although where that leaves the Ultimate Driving Machine remains to be seen.

2nd Gear: Mitsubishi Expects Loss

In SHOCKING news, Mitsubishi fully expects to take a financial sting from its fuel economy cheating scandal in Japan. The company will likely incur a net loss this year. How could it not? Via Reuters:

...Mitsubishi Motors chief executive Osamu Masuko said on Tuesday the company would seek to contain the cost of the scandal in this financial year, but he did not say whether that would drag it into the red.

“(The scandal) will likely hurt us this year, and the extent to which we can recover from it, will depend up on how well we can leverage our synergies with Nissan,” he said.

The automaker said last week it planned to give owners of four minivehicles close to $1,000 in compensation for its overstating of mileage readings, part of reimbursement costs that will total at least $600 million.


3rd Gear: Safety Advocates Weigh In On Yelchin Crash

All eyes in the car world are now on the investigation into the car crash death of Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, and whether or not it had anything to do with a recall of Fiat Chrysler cars over a confusing gear shifter that led to dozens of rollaway accidents.


Via Automotive News, here’s safety advocate Clarence Ditlow weighing in:

A top automotive safety advocate said in a statement that Yelchin’s death “is unfortunately the latest example of industry and government incompetence in the face of vehicle safety defects.”

Clarence Ditlow, executive direct of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., said he sent a letterto Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne calling on the automaker to:

Notify owners not to drive these vehicles until they are repaired.

Provide free loaner cars to all owners until the vehicles are repaired.

For owners who cannot wait for the recall repair, buy the recalled vehicles back at original purchase or lease cost as is done under state lemon laws.

Provide a detailed public timeline within 10 days of what is being done to make a recall remedy available.

Ditlow also said Marchionne should apologize to Yelchin’s family.

4th Gear: Volkswagen Shareholders File Suit

Volkswagen’s diesel cheating “fix” should be coming in the U.S. at the end of this month, but here and in other countries, problems are mounting for the automaker. Via Reuters:

Law firm Quinn Emanuel has filed one of two lawsuits in Germany against Volkswagen for institutional funds in claims that could run into billions of euros over the carmaker’s emissions test cheating scandal, litigation funder Bentham Europe said on Tuesday.

“The breadth of the shareholder base that is represented by Quinn Emanuel should be a wake-up call to Volkswagen AG that it needs to engage with shareholders now, resolve matters and concentrate on regaining its market share,” said Jeremy Marshall, chief investment officer of Bentham Europe.


5th Gear: Can Volkswagen Become An Electric Giant?

Volkswagen’s post-Dieselgate strategy involves trimming back on models, and maybe brands too, while focusing on hybrid and electric cars. But that means a huge investment in batteries and other tech.


Here’s Bloomberg on why such a massive shift is easier said than done:

Still, trying to manufacture lithium-ion batteries would entail huge risks for Volkswagen, whose balance sheet has already been weakened by the 16.2 billion euros ($18.4 billion) provision for diesel-related fines and recall costs. VW management should proceed with extreme caution.

[...] However, given the technological headstart enjoyed by the likes of Samsung SDI, LG Chem and Panasonic, there are reasons to think VW would struggle to compete, at least initially. Deutsche Bank analysts think VW might need up to 10 years to catch up.

Electric vehicle battery prices are already falling rapidly amid technological advances, aggressive price cuts and a surfeit of production capacity. That’s good news for those hoping for rapid adoption of electric vehicles but not necessarily for the profits of companies that sell batteries. The Chinese government this year made supporting battery development a top priority, suggesting competition will only intensify.


Reverse: Mille Miglia


Neutral: Is VW’s Future Really Electric?

Or should it focus on core cars for a bit instead?

Editor-in-Chief @ Jalopnik, 2015-2019.


Turbineguy: Nom de Zoom

Notify owners not to drive these vehicles until they are repaired

What repair? Wasn't this just a case of the shifter operating a bit different than what folks were used to, and the usual level of "not paying attention"?