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I’m revisiting a topic I discussed earlier this month regarding Apple, leaks around project Titan, and GM competitiveness in autonomous electric vehicles. I’ve got more thoughts, more events, and more input from our loyal readers to contribute.
Here’s the main upshot from the last piece. Apple needs to learn how to build cars while GM needs to learn software, design, customer experience (CX), and new business models. At the time I had my money on Apple. Where are we now, just a couple weeks later? (Who says automotive moves slowly?)
Apple’s tier one savior
It’s clear that Apple can’t build a car themselves, so who would be doing it for them? I’ve long thought that a well-positioned tier one could be exactly what Apple, Google, Amazon, or Uber need to realize their visions. After all, tier one suppliers build nearly all of the requisite subsystems on behalf of OEMs all the time.
To build the Apple car, you’d need one of the full spectrum tier ones like Magna who most of the rumors seem to be circulating around. Magna has also been flying high lately with a new CEO, Fisker announcements, LG announcements, and a soaring stock price. It could always be another big whole-car supplier though too like Delphi, DENSO, Bosch, or Conti.
For the full spectrum of skills needed to go from design to a road-certified machine, picking an OEM to build your car is a safer bet.
The real Titan speaks up
This makes perfect sense. For the full spectrum of skills needed to go from design to a road-certified machine, picking an OEM to build your car is a safer bet. In my opinion, Hyundai is absolutely the perfect OEM to deliver on this. They have the all the expertise, manufacturing, and supply chains needed to create a global car that’s right the first time. Hyundai doesn’t have a brand ego that needs to be satiated like North American or European OEMs often do. They have a number of existing high-value partnerships with companies like Baidu, Nvidia, Rimac, and Uber – which means Apple wouldn’t need to hammer out new agreements quite so much. And finally: they can deliver quality at competitive pricing, which makes an Apple branded Hyundai able to deliver great margins for both players.
GM has bought into EV and they’re doubling down.
GM isn’t sitting still
Apple has gotten serious. Can GM still deliver on any of the many components they need to fight this incoming tech giant for autonomous EV dominance?
If you’re part of the autotech community and you attended the virtual CES experience this year, I hope you watched the GM keynote. Delivered by Mary Barra with a host of other GM folks, it provided a grand vision of what GM is doing and planning around an EV future. GM also used this opportunity to launch a new brand identity and logo that’s much hipper and more modern. They’re taking their solid execution and re-juicing it with some mojo.
Make no mistake – they’ve bought into EV and they’re doubling down. They go into the design of their Ultium skateboard platform and battery design. They’re revisiting the entire CX experience. GM is making huge progress with their autonomous acquisition Cruise. They’re also proliferating SuperCruise out of the Cadillac lineup into the Bolt (with other cars coming TBA). They also have a whole new ultra-sexy and fully EV Caddy lineup. They also introduced an electric Hummer that, except for the cartoonishly good-ole-boy named race mode, “Watts to Freedom”, almost makes me reconsider my Rivian fantasies. (Me, in a Hummer. Never in a million years would I have considered that.)
Not just a game
The GM keynote video was in part built with Unreal Engine. That’s the same game engine that powers Fortnite and tons of other games. Although in this keynote it was used to seamlessly blend animated virtual concept objects into the space surrounding the speakers.
I think this bears mentioning for a couple reasons. One, it helped them create an amazing video with the CGI quality you’d expect from Hollywood movies. Two, they’re integrating a top-of-the-line 3D virtualized rendering platform with a huge developer community into the car UX. Doesn’t that seem just like something a Silicon Valley company would do?
Hail to the victor
GM also addressed autonomous-drone delivery systems and a new offshoot, BrightDrop, that’s partnering with FedEx Express. Basically, they’re doing everything that they need to explore new business models, new design, and new thinking. GM’s shown that they’re not sitting still as a new mobility player. Yet Apple has shown that the Titan dream is serious too. They know they can’t build cars themselves, and they’ve signed on a solid partner that will help them deliver their vision.
Between Apple and GM, who’ll win the autonomous EV race? With the power of their brand behind them, my money is still on Apple for the edge in consumer adoption and dominance over the long term. But GM has shown they’re far from throwing in their towel.