Tech Talk: Car Makers Still Bond Over Driverless Tech

Not that long ago, the automotive industry was one of the most competitive ones on the planet. Not that car manufacturers aren't highly competitive today but they do have some newfound love for one another, so to speak. Interestingly enough, it's not the oversaturated market that drove them to cooperate, nor were they inclined to partner up because of technological advancements. No, what finally brought car makers closer together is the party driving these technological advancements. Of course, we're talking about the Silicon Valley where the likes of Google and Apple have been innovating in the autonomous driving field for years now. Not surprisingly, automakers are worried by the fact that they may soon have to compete with the people famous for making a search engine. Yes, Google is so much more than just a search engine company these days but the idea that it will soon be able to threaten the likes of BMW, Ford, Volkswagen, and other auto industry giants is still rather novel. Novel and really, really scary, as far as the traditional automotive business is concerned.

This is precisely one of the main reasons why car makers have recently been partnering up all over the industry spectrum. Volkswagen, BMW, and Daimler AG are joint owners of the popular navigation service HERE and have recently agreed to share crowdsourced traffic data with one another. They'll soon be launching several new HERE services based exclusively on that shared data. The Volkswagen-owned Škoda and Volvo have reached a similar agreement with some mediation from the Dutch navigation service TomTom,  while General Motors, Nissan, and Volkswagen announced an almost identical partnership at this year's Paris Motor Show. Just a couple of weeks ago, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published a set of federal guidelines for manufacturers of self-driving vehicles. Though the new legal framework is mostly reasonable, some skeptics pointed out that the automotive industry will heavily protest the rule on manufacturers sharing data with one another. However, they couldn't have been more wrong as no one protested the said mandate. As it turns out, traditional automakers are much more concerned with improving their own self-driving tech than fighting each other while the Silicon Valley is getting ready to commercially launch autonomous vehicles in a few years.

Ten years ago, all of these collaborations were basically unthinkable for everyone involved but today, they're the best response automakers can come up with when faced with an increased possibility of losing business to tech companies in the near future. Because of that, this trend of car makers bonding over self-driving tech shows no signs of slowing down. The latest such partnership was announced by Toyota and BMW who both agreed to invest in Nauto, a US self-driving startup. As a part of the deal, both companies will be sharing traffic data with Nauto and each other in an effort to improve their autonomous driving tech.

Neither automaker is particularly concerned with the fact that its competitor will be gaining access to all of the data they've been keeping secret for years because that information doesn't hold the same value anymore. Namely, Nauto alone has been offering advanced fleet management services for years and is still working with dozens of commercial fleets which means that its own traffic data is much more detailed and numerous than that of BMW and Toyota combined. When you look at things that way, it's obvious that car makers are so willing to collaborate now because they don't have a lot to lose but everything to gain. The more data self-driving cars have, the better they'll be able to react in certain situations, which consequently makes them safer. As safety is the number one priority for all driverless vehicles, information is the most valuable currency in the automotive industry these days. At the same time, that same currency was heavily hit with a figurative inflation wave and companies simply need more of it at all costs. That's precisely why they're willing to collaborate after decades of fierce competition because information is reusable while market share is much harder to regain, especially when lost to someone outside of the traditional industry.

In other words, car makers just want to level the playing field and catch up with the Silicon Valley and its advancements at all costs. As Jim Adler, Toyota's head of data said to Recode, driverless safety won't be a competitive advantage any more than anti-lock brakes were when they were originally introduced. In other words, everyone will offer it sooner or later so it's better to collaborate and get there sooner than get left behind. After that's said and done and driverless vehicles become an everyday sight on the streets, that's when we'll probably see automakers start exhibiting more competitive practices once again. For now, they're all just focused on not falling too far behind on the technological curve.

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Dominik Bosnjak

Head Editor
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016 and is the Head Editor of the site today. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]