Welcome back! This week, we explore how the pandemic is changing consumer behavior and how that could affect self-driving car development.
Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,517 words, a 6-minute read.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Self-driving cars are the kind of speculative, cash-gobbling experiment that typically gets axed at a time like this. But if anything, this pandemic has shown the demand for driverless vehicles could be larger than expected.
What's happening: Despite economic woes, most autonomous vehicle developers say now is not the time to cut back. AV road tests are suspended, but simulated driving continues.
The big picture: Auto and tech companies are focusing on a handful of factors that will influence the movement of people and goods in the future, even as consumer behavior changes.
1. People might shun public transportation, but they still need to get around.
2. Widespread use of personal cars isn't practical in cities.
3. Building trust in shared AVs requires a new dimension in safety: hygiene.
4. Autonomous delivery is ready to take off.
The bottom line: Creating a self-driving service involves more than building a safe vehicle. It has to deliver value to consumers. The pandemic might be a catalyst for adoption.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
The global pandemic may be reinforcing the logic for self-driving cars, but the economic fallout is likely to accelerate the consolidation trend that was already underway.
What it matters: Self-driving technology is a difficult — and expensive — challenge, and many companies have decided they are better off pooling resources. Only a handful of well-capitalized players will likely make it across the finish line.
What's happening: Aptiv closed its $4 billion joint venture deal with Hyundai on March 26, in the midst of the crisis.
What's they're saying: "A couple of years ago, people thought this was a software activity," Iagnemma told Axios. "What the industry has come to realize is that having a deep strategic relationship with an automotive (company) is essential."
Yes, but: Well-funded independent players can succeed without worrying about being dependent on a single automaker's fortunes, says Sterling Anderson, co-founder of Aurora Innovation, whose A-list backers include Sequoia Capital, Amazon and T. Rowe Price.
What's next: Volkswagen and Argo AI are nearing completion of a $2.6 billion investment deal that will make Ford and VW equal minority shareholders in the automated driving tech company.
What to watch: Fiat Chrysler says it is still committed to a planned merger with PSA Groupe, but both sides are scrambling to preserve cash in light of the crisis, and there's talk that the companies could try to renegotiate terms of the deal.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
Volvo Cars is preparing to launch its first fully self-driving technology for highways using lidar and perception technology provided by Luminar, an ambitious tech startup.
Why it matters: The partnership is a major milestone for both companies.
Details: The system will debut as an option on Volvo's next-generation vehicles, starting in 2022, likely with the XC90 crossover.
How it works: There will be no ambiguity about when the driver needs to pay attention, says Patrik Björler, director of autonomous drive and mobility strategy at Volvo Cars.
What's next: The companies said they'll deepen their collaboration to jointly ensure Luminar can manufacture and validate its lidar system for series production.
Rail warriors: On Amtrak trains, there are still passengers (Devi Lockwood — The New York Times)
Backlash: Frontier Airlines ditches $39 empty seats sale after heavy criticism (Joe Rubino — The Denver Post)
Sci-fi trucks: New breed of pickups mixes horsepower and battery power (Lawrence Ulrich — The New York Times)
Worthy: China automotive expert Michael Dunne, CEO of San Diego-based consultancy ZoZoGo, has a new podcast, "Winning in Asia."
2020 Mini Cooper SE. Photo: Mini
This week I'm driving the 2020 Mini Cooper SE, a cute little electric hatchback that provided a few surprises.
The big picture: Mini, owned by BMW, was actually a pioneer in electrification a decade ago, before Tesla burst on the scene, notes CNET. But the 2009 Mini-E was mostly built for demonstration fleets and never offered for sale. Now the first electric Mini is finally available.
First, the disappointing surprise: The 2020 Cooper SE has an estimated driving range of just 110 miles, much less than its contemporaries like the Chevrolet Bolt (259 miles) or the Nissan Leaf (150 to 226 miles, depending on which battery it has).
To maximize battery range, it features two regenerative-braking modes:
One fun surprise: The Mini's taillights reflect the Union Jack, making its funky design even cooler.
I saved the best surprise for last: the price.