Top 10 people, companies and technologies shaping the future of the vehicles

The Bond franchise has predicted no less than seven real-world innovations, according to carthrottle.com.

By David Booth

For those wondering when the revolution — nay, the revolutions — sweeping the automobile industry was going to abate, 2018’s answer is a resounding “not soon.” Indeed, if half of what is projected for the next 12 to 24 months is any indication, anyone hoping for even a brief respite from the seismic shifts pummelling the industry is going to be disappointed.

After all, no less than Bob Lutz — former co-chairman of General Motors Co. — last November proclaimed “we are approaching the end of the automotive era.” Then Uber Technologies Inc., hiding behind the guise of social responsibility, proposed the banning of private car ownership in urban centres. And, of course, we can’t forget the never-ending news machine that is Elon Musk. After unveiling an affordable electric luxury car and Tesla Inc.’s electrically powered semi, it was almost easy to miss his introduction of the world’s fastest roadster.

Let’s try to make some sense of the technologies, as well as the people, places and companies that are going to rock your automotive world over the next couple of years.For those wondering when the revolution — nay, the revolutions — sweeping the automobile industry was going to abate, 2018’s answer is a resounding “not soon.” Indeed, if half of what is projected for the next 12 to 24 months is any indication, anyone hoping for even a brief respite from the seismic shifts pummelling the industry is going to be disappointed.

After all, no less than Bob Lutz — former co-chairman of General Motors Co. — last November proclaimed “we are approaching the end of the automotive era.” Then Uber Technologies Inc., hiding behind the guise of social responsibility, proposed the banning of private car ownership in urban centres. And, of course, we can’t forget the never-ending news machine that is Elon Musk. After unveiling an affordable electric luxury car and Tesla Inc.’s electrically powered semi, it was almost easy to miss his introduction of the world’s fastest roadster.

Let’s try to make some sense of the technologies, as well as the people, places and companies that are going to rock your automotive world over the next couple of years.

GM’s Tech Centre in Markham

Far less controversial — and far more patriotic — than ex-GM exec Bob Lutz’s comments that the end of the car is nigh was the company’s opening of a tech centre in January in Markham, Ont.

Originally an American Express call centre, GM’s new 150,000-square-foot complex will be the largest automotive technology hub in Canada, and is set to develop both hardware and software for electric, connected, autonomous and shared automobiles throughout GM’s global empire.

Surrounded by other tech giants such as Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Lenovo Group Ltd., GE Digital Energy, Toshiba Corp. and others, the Tech Centre can draw talent from manifold tech industries, not just automotive. Canadians still afflicted by national self-deprecation might do well to remember that the Greater Toronto Area — including nearby Kitchener-Waterloo — is gaining a reputation as Silicon Valley North, such is the talent emanating from Canadian universities and startups.

The Markham centre is also part of GM’s inter-module tech sharing platform that has its 700 engineers teleconferencing with other tech centres, from Communitech in Kitchener to sites in the United States and overseas. No longer simply a manufacturing hub, Ontario is quickly becoming a major force in The General’s relentless pursuit of high-tech leadership.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, is taking electric cars where they have never gone before.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP

Elon Musk

The most polarizing executive in the auto industry, Elon Musk embodies every bit the revolutionary genius of Charles Kettering — the man who fairly invented the modern automobile — combined, unfortunately, with a propensity for Bernie Madoff-style exaggeration. You can’t help but marvel at the sheer force of will that transformed Tesla from a purveyor of mere electrical playthings — the original Tesla was a Lotus-based runabout — to the standard by which all electric vehicles are judged. Nor can you ignore the genius that recently saw two SpaceX booster rockets return to Earth as delicately as someone might handle their mother’s favourite china. Musk is nothing if not a visionary.

On the other hand, the endless hucksterism that uses tomorrow’s deposits to fuel today’s cash burn — estimated at US$8,000 a minute by Bloomberg — speaks volumes about Silicon Valley financing. After all, what is a Ponzi scheme if not the willingness to finance current returns, er, products, with the deposits from future investors/customers? One is never quite sure whether to cheer Tesla’s successes or lament the rabbit hole Musk is leading us down. The Economist, in a recent exposé, probably summed it up best with a quote from the head of one of the world’s largest energy equity funds who, lauding the Tesla CEO’s ability to drive clean technologies and new business models, proclaimed, “The world needs Elon Musk!” Then, with the very next breath, he advised one and all to “short” Tesla. The proverbial riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, that is Elon Musk.

Uber and other ride share companies are pushing for control of autonomous fleets in urban areas.

Uber’s quest to monopolize inner-city transport

In an almost universally ignored policy statement, an organization called sharedmobilityprinciples.org in February released its vision of the future, Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities. Most of its dicta were the traditional “planning our cities and their mobility together” and “zero-
emission and renewable energy” positions that sum up pretty much every vision of our transportation future, but the last of its mandates was truly startling. In the future, according to signatories — which included Lyft and ZipCar as well as Uber — all “autonomous vehicles in dense urban areas should be operated only in [well-regulated] shared fleets.”

Because reducing congestion is so inherently important, only established companies will be allowed to own — and operate — self-driving vehicles. Of course, a skeptic might posit the real reason Uber et al want a monopoly is they worry that private ownership of said self-driving cars could threaten their ride-hailing services in the same way Airbnb is stealing business from traditional hotel chains.

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