There have been a few news breaks in recent weeks about automakers expanding technology offerings and acquiring new partners. They reinforce the idea that OEMs are moving beyond building and selling cars to offering a wide range of transportation services.
- Faraday Future: This Chinese startup has been getting a lot of attention in the past few months, with that culminating at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company is backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting and plans to build a 900-acre, $1 billion factory in Nevada in the near future. Faraday Future unveiled the Batmobile-like FFZERO1 in Las Vegas, which has four electric motors (one at each wheel) combined that deliver more than 1,000 horsepower, enough to send the car from 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds and to a top speed of 200 mph. What’s been most interesting about Faraday is the platform architecture that it’s built on. It’s very flexible – Faraday can add or remove batteries, shorten or extend the chassis depending on the body that will be attached, or other applications. It’s a much faster process than what traditional OEMs go through – new vehicles can be production ready in 18 to 24 months, the company said. There’s talk about Faraday Future vehicles being deployed in Uber-like ridesharing services and as autonomous vehicles. Wherever this new startup is heading, it gained a wave of buzz and news coverage at CES and the Detroit Auto Show.
- Maven: General Motors Co. has raised eyebrows in the auto industry since the beginning of this year with its $500 million investment in ridesharing company Lyft and acquisition of the assets of Sidecar, the third largest ridesharing company in the U.S. after Uber and Lyft. The story is getting even better. GM has just launched Maven, a carsharing service allowing users to access a Chevrolet vehicle on the new Maven mobile app for as little as $6 per hour, similar to what Zipcar offers. Services will start up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and will expand over to New York City, Chicago, and a peer-to-peer sharing program in Germany, serving residents of Frankfurt and Berlin. This will be in addition to ridesharing services (and eventually autonomous vehicles) through its relationships with Lyft and Sidecar. GM expects 25 million customers to use ride-sharing services globally by 2020, up from between five and six million today.
- Ford: CEO Mark Fields described Ford’s continued commitment to urban mobility during a keynote speech at CES and at the Detroit Auto Show – and now there’s also FordPass. Fields thinks that transportation services are the biggest area of potential growth for automakers following a year of sales the industry may never surpass (and that will eventually shrink). Ford Motor Co. just launched a new app-based platform called FordPass. It lets users access a variety of transportation services including paying for downtown parking or sharing their vehicle. The app has four main service categories: a marketplace for mobility services; “FordGuides,” who are accessible through texts or phone calls for guidance and needed information; “FordHubs,” which are actual buildings across the globe where customers can experience Ford technology; and a loyalty program in which app users can earn points and rewards. These services are being carried out through partnerships with mobility companies and Silicon Valley-based startups. Last year, Ford tested a carsharing program in six U.S. cities; this may be one of the FordPass services announced in the future.
- Daimler: In September 2014, Daimler acquired ridesharing apps RideScout and myTaxi. It was part of Daimler’s continued push beyond car manufacturing and into developing technology for urban mobility. Along with its major carsharing division, Car2go, Daimler has been looking into a wide spectrum of personal mobility services to offer in global markets. Complications have come up for Daimler with a German court ruling this month that heavily discounted fares offered to customers who paid electronically via the myTaxi app were illegal. The case was file by German taxi operator group Taxi Deutschland, which offers a competing app. MyTaxi operates in 40 European cities, including in Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Switzerland. The app has more than 10 million registered users, the company says.
- Tesla Motors has been tweaking safety features on its Autopilot connected car/autonomous vehicle service. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the car will now reduce its speed in anticipation of curves on the highway, but added he was not aware of any accidents caused by the earlier version of the software. The function will now be restricted on residential roads or roads without a center divider, so that the Model S or Model X can’t drive faster than the speed limit maximum plus five miles per hour. There have been several videos on YouTube in recent months showing near-misses on roads with Autopilot, which has pushed Tesla into addressing safety features. Musk said Autopilot was “probably better than human at this point in highway driving,” able to keep to its lane using cameras, radar, and mapping.