Jun 7, 2019

Axios Navigate

Joann Muller

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Today Expert Voices contributor Sudha Jamthe looks at data sharing among automakers.

We're all about brevity here at Axios. Today's newsletter clocks in at 1,250 words/< 5-minute read.

1 big thing: FCA doesn't need to get married

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week's abrupt end to merger talks between Fiat Chrysler and Renault might be cause for panic as other carmakers pair off to try to deliver the next generation of autos.

The big picture: The cost of developing electric and autonomous vehicles is daunting, it's true, but a full-fledged merger isn't the only way to share the burden. In the seismic shift toward Autos 2.0, the smart play could be simply keeping your options open.

Driving the news: In a surprise announcement Wednesday evening, FCA withdrew its offer to merge with Renault, scuttling a deal to create the world's third-biggest automaker just two weeks after it was announced.

  • FCA chairman John Elkann is said to have lost patience with delays sought by the French government, which owns 15% of Renault and wanted time to confirm that its longtime alliance partner, Nissan, would support the deal.

What's happening: 100-year-old carmakers are now competing with tech giants and Silicon Valley startups, creating new risks — but also new opportunities for cross-pollination.

Fiat Chrysler has done a decent job so far leveraging such arrangements, Gartner mobility analyst Mike Ramsey tells Axios. "Why does the car company have to own it?"

What's next: For electric cars, FCA could easily team up with a company like Volkswagen, Navigant Research's Sam Abuelsamid tells Axios.

The bottom line: There are other ways FCA can access the necessary technologies while maintaining its independence and coddling its crown jewels: Jeep and Ram.

Go deeper.

2. Big Auto under siege

GM headquarters in Detroit. Photo: Uli Deck/picture alliance via Getty Images

"It's a scary time to be in the car business," writes Jack Ewing of The New York Times.

The big picture: Aside from the technology disruptions mentioned above, automakers are confronting dual threats from the Trump administration — tariffs against Mexico and a looming rollback of Obama-era emissions mandates.

Driving the news: GM, Ford, Toyota and more than a dozen others sent a letter Thursday urging President Trump to reopen talks with California, which is battling his efforts to freeze Obama's standards in 2020 rather than allowing them to grow stricter.

Why it matters, via Axios' Ben Geman: California, under the Clean Air Act, has authority to impose its own pollution rules that roughly a dozen other states follow. The auto industry fears a regulatory and legal mess if there are different rules in different regions.

  • "[A] broadly supported final rule would provide regulatory certainty and enhance our ability to invest and innovate by avoiding an extended period of litigation and instability, which could prove as untenable as the current program," states the letter first reported by the Times.

Meanwhile, Trump plans to impose escalating tariffs on imported goods from Mexico — including cars and auto parts — starting Monday, unless Mexico stems the flow of immigrants crossing into the U.S.

Go deeper: Behind the scenes, Trump unsettles the auto sector

3. Automakers are finally starting to share road safety data

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This week, Ford, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Volvo announced a major data sharing partnership focused on road safety that includes European service providers and the transportation ministries of several EU member states, Sudha Jamthe writes for Axios Expert Voices.

Why it matters: Shared data from connected vehicles on weather and road conditions will ideally improve safety in real-time, and it could represent a major step forward for vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

What's happening: This latest partnership, overseen by the European Data Task Force, is one of several recent efforts by automakers to collaborate in order to share data.

  • The idea here is to collect data when a vehicle, say, turns on its hazard warning lights, then share that data with vehicles nearby via cloud technology.
  • BMW, GM, Ford and Renault have also formed a research group that aims to use blockchain to share customer data to develop shared mobility options.

What we're watching: If customers experience increased safety and convenience, it could ultimately build greater public trust in AVs that eventually have V2V capabilities.

Read the full post.

Sudha Jamthe is director of DriverlessWorldSchool and teaches AV Business at Stanford Continuing Studies.

4. Driving the conversation

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz electric concept vehicle. Photo: VW

Acqui-hire: Apple looks to acquire struggling self-driving car startup Drive.ai (Amir Efrati and Alex Heath — The Information)

  • The big picture: As the hype over self-driving cars fades amid deep technical challenges, less well-funded players like Drive.ai are likely to get scooped up for their engineering talent.

China power: Toyota partners with China's CATL to power electric ambitions (Yukihiro Omoto — Nikkei Asian Review)

  • Why it matters: As Axios scooped earlier this week, Toyota is leaning on Chinese partners to catch up to rivals amid an industry-wide shift toward battery-electric vehicles.
  • By adding China's CATL as another source of EV batteries, Toyota aims to sell 4.5 million EVs and plug-in hybrids a year by 2025 (5 years earlier than planned).

Confronting the past: Why VW decided to reference its scandal in its new electric-car ad campaign (Jeff Beer — Fast Company)

  • My thought bubble: It's always risky to remind customers why they're mad at you. But Volkswagen's decision to directly address the diesel emissions scandal that tainted the company's reputation 4 years ago is a master stroke in this case.
  • See what you think of this nearly 2-minute commercial promoting its shift to electric vehicles.
5. What I'm driving

Audi Q8. Photo: Audi

I've been immersed in Audi lately; this week I'm driving the 2019 Audi Q8, a sportier, coupe-like version of the more conventional Q7 SUV.

I'm not a fan of these big crossovers with tapered rooflines, like the BMW X6 or Mercedes GLE-Class coupe. Not only do they cheat you on cargo space, their proportions look awkward to me, the Q8 included.

But that's my only complaint: the Q8 is a sweet ride.

What stands out, besides the premium materials and superb handling, is Audi's new two-screen infotainment system.

  • The graphics are clear and easy to read, and haptic feedback gives drivers a natural feel on their fingertips so they know when they make a selection.
  • The lower screen, which is dedicated to the climate control system, can also convert to a cool writing tablet.

Standard safety equipment on the Q8's $67,400 base model includes forward collision warning and city-speed automatic emergency braking, but it's disappointing that some driver-assistance features require you to buy higher-priced models or option packages.

  • The $77,090 Q8 I'm driving includes both the $4,000 Premium Plus package and the $2,750 Driver Assistant package.
  • Features include adaptive cruise control that can bring the car to a complete stop in traffic, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and a steering-assist feature that helps you avoid turning left in front of oncoming traffic.

The bottom line: The Q8 is another great Audi.

Joann Muller