The world of auto making and development has hit an astounding growth spurt, and transportation is never going to be the same. How did this happen, and who are the major players? Auto manufacturers are of course responsible for reacting to and carrying out major changes that occur in the auto industry, but they’re not calling all the shots.
In fact, it turns out that executives at General Motors are willing to be the first to tell you that they’re not the only ones responsible for the rapid uptake of unprecedented and ground-breaking trends in the world of automobiles. Richard Holman, a 30-year veteran in the automotive industry and the man responsible for GM’s foresight and trends unit, said last week that three years ago, most industry participants would have estimated that self-driving cars would hit the market somewhere around 2035.
Now, as Holman told a conference of industry professionals being held in suburban Detroit, self-driving cars are predicted to be deployed as soon as 2020, if not earlier. Holman stated that auto makers like GM had been working on autonomous driving technology for years, but that tech giants like Google and Tesla deserve the credit for the technology’s more recent and rapid development.
These nods from the auto industry towards Silicon Valley are few and far between; however, the GM exec saw fit to note the influence that the tech hub has had as far as reshaping the global auto industry at large, despite the more established reign of older, international auto makers.
According to Holman, many auto makers are less likely to take the risks that tech companies will in terms of allocating resources towards researching new technologies: “we don’t want to make a mistake,” he explained. However, Silicon Valley’s ability to create working prototypes that drove themselves “forced the issue” and automaker’s participation in the new standard.
Once it became clear to the higher-ups at GM that autonomous driving capabilities would be crucial to the way and market of the future, it began to invest heavily in carving itself out a piece of the action. It invested $500 million in ride-sharing service Lyft Inc. and is planning a $1 billion purchase of Cruise Automation, a San Francisco-based startup that specializes in developing software for autonomous vehicles. Just last week, Lyft told the Wall Street Journal that the three companies will work together to test their electronic taxis on public roads next year.
Uber made headlines earlier last week when it began to test its own autonomous taxis in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
GM might be a late-comer in terms of the self-driving game, but when the company decides to set its sites on something, it has the resources and infrastructures to develop whatever automobile best fits its new perspective on cars. Just think about it’s recent entry into the electric vehicle game. Only a few years after GM had realized that making Hummers was probably a bad idea, it was spitting out an affordable, all-electric car (the Chevy Bolt) that could travel over 100 miles on a single charge… before Tesla.