After CES: Automakers Shift from Horsepower to Processing Power
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because your favorite carmakers are switching gears — from the thrill of driving to the thrill of riding.
By Corbin Brown
OZY and Giant Spoon have been excited to partner on special live coverage from CES 2017 — where the most forward-looking technology and media came together. Rather than cover just the latest gadgets, though, we’ve been taking you deeper with key takeaways, little-known rising stars, unconventional trends and, yes, the coolest sh*t from the convention.
Corbin Brown is an associate director at Giant Spoon, an innovation-driven marketing agency.
Judging from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, mobility has supplanted that long-standing automaker race to get from zero to 60 in record time. Just days ahead of the Detroit Auto Show, major automakers revved into Vegas with a major change from the past 50 years and a clear signal about where their industry is headed: from the thrill of driving to the thrill of … riding.
A New Era in Mobility
“We’re a mobility company!” nearly every automaker screamed on the showroom floor. It’s quite the change from just two years ago, when companies such as Tesla, Toyota and Chevy drove into CES with flashy new electric vehicles or environmentally conscious concept cars in tow. Last year, brands including Mercedes, Faraday and Audi teased that they’d be more focused on autonomy. But this year, major automakers are increasingly transforming into true technology companies that are thinking about holistic mobility — even if that means prepping for a world in which car ownership declines. Here’s how:
Car “Derivatives”: Hyundai and Honda, in particular, are focused on applying the technology and intellectual property they’ve built for vehicles to other forms of mobility. There’s Hyundai’s exoskeleton, which is comparable to Lockheed Martin’s mech-suit; Honda’s Uni-Cub, a motorized unicycle that looks sort of like a Segway with a seat; and Ford’s bike-sharing system. These were a few of the many examples. My favorite derivative? Nissan’s autonomous chair, because apparently the world needs such a device.
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Licensing Must-Have Software: Autonomy is on its way to ubiquity. Mercedes, Nissan, Hyundai, Faraday and other carmakers have all touted their unique autonomous technology. Toyota and Honda made waves with their Alexa-like artificial intelligence–driven assistants — a personification of vehicles that sense and respond to both your emotions and needs. It won’t be long, I suspect, before we see car companies that own the right kind of intellectual property being able to license their software to other manufacturers or inject the technology into derivative products.
Services: Rather than just manufacturing vehicles for the likes of Uber and Lyft, several car companies, including Hyundai and Cadillac, revealed plans to “Uberize” their own fleets so that subscribers can summon, share or rent certain vehicles. Ford, perhaps the furthest along in this area, bought Chariot, a ride-sharing service in San Francisco that is already helping the company monetize its own fleet as a service. Mercedes’ new app, Mercedes Me, turns its vehicles into giant sensor-laden Fitbits — able to access and analyze your driving behavior, appointments, sleep quality, physical activity and stress levels, as well as traffic and weather information. The company essentially wants to act as the central operating system (OS) for your connected world combining data from, say, your Nest smart home hub, Apple Watch and Withings Aura sleep sensor, with data from your car.
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Car Companies Become to Uber What Airbus Is to American Airlines
What do you get when you combine autonomy with networked fleets and Alexa-like AI assistants? A completely new driver behavior that changes the way we think about cars and ownership, not to mention transportation. In the not-so-distant future, what will happen to the concept of a “brand” as it relates to the auto industry? Think about the last car commercial you saw. Did it have hairpin turns and elicit a few goose bumps — with Fast and Furious–style drifts? Well, remember it, because it’s a relic of a dying era.
When autonomy becomes a true commodity, we will no longer share the same visceral connection from hand to wheel, from foot to pedal. Indeed, when a consumer makes a choice about “brand” in the future, they’ll be thinking about a completely different set of considerations that are uniquely suited to riding — not driving.
In this future, the brand decision will be made up of ride-sharing services, not auto manufacturers. The brand you’ll be considering might include Uber, Lyft, Chariot or one of the many new ride suppliers that are bound to pop up. And each service will have its own unique selling proposition — Lyft may be more kid-friendly, Uber may be the best for business and another vendor (Tinder?) might be the best for picking up a date. But even before we get there, when most cars on the road will be semi-autonomous, car buyers will be looking for what they can do in their car, not where it can take them. In the near future, values like accountability, service, comfort, interface compatibility, entertainment and predictive intelligence will supplant horsepower and turning radius.
Forgot the Sharing Economy. Next Up: The Autonomy Economy
Of all the products and technologies at CES, autonomy has the greatest potential to change life as we know it. As Andreessen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans points out, autonomy will have a drastic impact on the global economy — whether through oil production, population (see: fewer annual road deaths and fewer organ donations), city infrastructure, logistics, insurance and so on.
Think about the way our world has changed since the iPhone launched nearly a decade ago now — and multiply that many times over. Yes, autonomy will give birth to entirely new economies that transform dining, shopping, entertainment and media, productivity, education and manufacturing. And after getting a peek into the future this past weekend, it’s clear that we’re in for a ride.
- Corbin Brown, OZY Author Contact Corbin Brown