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Self-driving Cars: When we can’t see the forest for the trees

The Automotive Industry is being disrupted, and traditional manufacturers (i.e. General Motors, Ford, BMW, Mercedes-Benz) are accelerating their pace to catch up with the “Disruptors” (i.e. Google, Uber, Lyft).

But this catching up process is not being followed by policy makers.

When thinking about the future of the mobility, several questions arise around:

  • responsibility in case of an accident: OEM, driver, software provider, hardware provider?

  • how to measure driver disengagement effects

  • insurance coverage

  • terrorism, etc.

But when analyzing points that at first glance seems simpler and that are already part of our reality, as the presence of electric vehicle (Tesla direct sales for example) or Transportation Networks Companies (TNC: Uber, Lyft, etc.) more fundamental questions and policies seem to be unsolved.

For example:

  • TNC regulation is not homogeneous in the US. While some states have regulation about TNC and insurance, others have regulations only related to insurance, and some have no regulation. The picture below shows the status at the end of January 2017:

  • While Tesla can legally sell cars direct to customers in California, and other selected states, that operation is not allowed (and considered illegal) in other states. The map below shows the situation up to now:

In this context, where policy makers are not able yet to agree on a similar mindset related to simpler (but disruptive) business models, the challenges that the future is putting in front of us appears as challenging as talking about regulations.

The future looks complex. Traditional OEMs and New Players are promising driverless cars for the period 2019/2021. Some of them are on track, and others realize that should recover lost time, but all of them have a common factor: to protect against the advance of new players like Google, Uber, Lyft whose plans of manufacturing or not are unclear.

Regarding the recent alliances (the last one between Uber and Daimler in February 2017), we can establish that Uber and Lyft seems to focus their strategy on gaining a position as fleet administrator and/or service in a future where shared ownership is a possible reality. Additionally, Uber is leveraging in futurist projects (like “Elevate,” related to Autonomous Air Transportation) its characteristic of a trendsetter.

In the case of Google, the recent spinoff of Waymo gives hints of a still unclear strategy about being software/hardware provider or an ultimate goal of “foxconning” the OEMs.

OEMs, of course, are fighting back and through acquisitions or internal developments are focusing their efforts on catching up the gap of a future that some years ago seemed to be out of Orwell’s1984. The competitive advantage of current economies of scale is the ace they have to play.

In the middle we have Tesla, targeting to reach the position of a “traditional” OEM but at the same time not having the scale necessary to compete in demanding market. The question about their core business (automotive or energy?) remains still open.

In this mixed cocktail of unsolved factors, policy is not the exception. All the key players are looking to policy makers to define next steps, and advocating in their favor. But policy makers, at the same time, are looking for the players to receive some hints of what to do (NHTSA new regulation from September 2016 could be mentioned as an example).

The future ahead looks, at least, interesting and with several questions still open to debate.


From #SFE, 🇦🇷. Living in #MTY, 🇲🇽. MD & Partner AMBE Eng. Alumni @UNLitoral & @StanfordGSB. #LiveWithPassion. #Happiness Ambassador. All views are my own.

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