We were set to publish a note on targets from major automakers to ramp production of electric and autonomous vehicles when we heard the news from Tempe. Regardless of who was responsible, it’s a tragic reminder about the dangers of road safety and reminds us that the move to self-driving cars will take longer than most think. We’ve been asking ourselves: what’s the right way to think about the risks of autonomy? Is the threshold for AVs zero accidents, or is it an improvement relative to human drivers? In the end, we continue to believe humans should not drive, and that traffic and pedestrian fatalities will decline under autonomy.
Tesla’s activity in electric and autonomous vehicles (EV and AV) is well documented. The electric car maker’s unlikely rise as a leader in EV and AV has forced other manufacturers to turn their attention to emerging technologies. Fuel cell technology had been considered the alternative fuel of the future, but Tesla’s success has altered the mindset of the industry and pushed other carmakers to develop battery-powered vehicles. Separately, the development of autonomous vehicles is a hyper-competitive space, with companies pouring billions of dollars in R&D for self-driving technology. Tesla’s Autopilot is probably the most advanced AV system on the road today, but its competitors are nipping at their heels. It’s clear that autonomous vehicles are the future, what’s much murkier is who the winners are going to be and when they are actually going to win.
- EV: In December of 2017 Toyota announced they were ramping up production of various forms of electrified vehicles (i.e. hybrids, battery-powered, fuel cell). They plan to offer an electrified version of every model they have in production. By 2030 they hope to have sell 5.5m electrified vehicles, with 1m of those being zero-emission (i.e. fully electric). Initially, they will roll out their EVs in China before moving to other markets like India, Europe, and the U.S.
- AV: The Toyota Research Institute is Toyota’s R&D arm that has been doing most of the work in autonomy for Toyota. At CES 2018, they showcased the third iteration of their self-driving vehicle, Platform 3.0. Its major improvement was the 4 long-range LiDARs on the roof that allow it to “see” 200m out all 360 degrees around the vehicle. Toyota says this makes it one of the most perceptive AVs being tested today. In late March 2018, Toyota was rumored to be in talks to have Uber supply them with their self-driving technology, which way mean Toyota’s technology isn’t advancing as fast as they would have hoped.
- EV: This past week VW came with some big news for EV plans: $25m in battery supplies to begin producing 3m vehicles a year in 16 factories by 2025. Volkswagen expects to spend up to 50B Euro on batteries to supply the initiative. The battery push is a continuation of VW’s aggressive electrification strategy. In September it was announced the they would be producing electric versions of all 300 vehicle models across the group’s 12 brands, a $24B investment.
- AV: Volkswagen is also heavily involved in AV, even showcasing a concept AV at last month’s Geneva Motor Show without a steering wheel or pedals. Beyond that, they have teamed up with AV software rockstars Aurora and announced production plans for a 4-seat fully autonomous bus.
- EV: Ford has been vocal about their commitment to electrifying their vehicles, planning to invest $11 billion in by 2022 and have 40 hybrid and fully electric models (upping their previous announcement of investing $4.5B by 2020).
- AV: Ford revealed its self-driving “platform” at CES in January, indicating Ford is more interested in being the OS of mobility’s future than simply a carmaker. The company also will invest $1b over the next 4-5 years in Argo AI, who will develop the autonomous technology for Ford to use with their vehicles. Ultimately, Ford hopes to operate a ride-hailing service with an autonomous fleet of Ford cars. No timetable has been set.
- EV: Honda got into the electrification game in October of 2016 when they set up an electric vehicle division in their R&D department. They were previously focused on hydrogen fuel cell technology for an alternative fuel system. Then in summer of 2017, they pledged to electrify two-thirds of their globally-sold cars by 2030. Currently, about 5% of sales are EVs.
- AV: Honda has stated they plan to come out with level 4 autonomous vehicles, meaning they can navigate highways and city roads in most conditions, by 2025. By 2020 they hope to have level 4 cars on the road. It was reported they were in talks to form a partnership with Alphabet-owned Waymo, but those discussions appear to have fallen through.
- EV: Nissan was an early adopter of electric vehicles with fully electric Leaf in 2010, which has gone on to become the world’s best-selling electric vehicle with over 300k sold. Since then Nissan, French carmaker Renault, and Mitsubishi have formed a strategic partnership and announced their ‘Alliance 2022’ plan in September of 2017. The plan endeavors to launch 12 new zero-emission vehicles by 2022. Furthermore, Infiniti (owned by Nissan) announced in January that they would be moving to an all-electric lineup by 2021.
- AV: In the Alliance 2022 plan, the three partners state they will introduce 40 vehicles with differing levels of autonomy (i.e. driver assistance up to full autonomy). Reading between the lines means they anticipate having full autonomy (level 4/5) figured out in less than 5 years. Nissan also unveiled a plan to launch a self-driving taxi service in Japan, called Easy Ride. Initially only offering short rides between Nissan HQ and a popular shopping mall just under 3 miles away, Nissan and their partner DeNa said they will expand it to a much wider market by 2020.
- EV: Hyundai was slow to adopt electrification, finally announcing in 2017 that they would add 38 green cars in the next 5 years. They will not all be battery-powered, some will be plug-in hybrids and some will be hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles, which Hyundai still considers to be the long-term future of zero-emission vehicles. They have differentiated themselves from competitors by focusing on range and are planning to offer two vehicles at the high-end of EV’s range of around 300 miles.
- AV: Hyundai, like VW, has partnered with Aurora to develop AV technology and manufacture autonomy-capable models to sell to fleet services. They anticipate having AVs on the market in 2021, most likely at level 4. Beyond the Aurora partnership, Hyundai had AVs shuttle athletes and attendees to and fro at the 2018 Winter Olympics and had showcased their concept for a mass-market AV back in 2016.
- EV: GM was also an early player in EVs, releasing the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid in 2011, but they have strengthened their commitment to the space and are striving to bring 20 new EVs to market by 2023. They also are aiming to sell 1m EVs a year by 2026. The competitive advantage they are seeking and touting is profitability through leveraging their superior scale in manufacturing and capital.
- AV: In one of the most ambitious AV announcements to date, GM announced they would be making an AV without a steering wheel or pedals by 2019. They also just announced they will be investing $100m in the production of the car, dubbed the Cruise AV (and based on the Volt), in two U.S. factories. They acquired Cruise Automation, an AV startup, in March 2016 for an undisclosed amount. GM wants to be a full stack AV company where they control all aspects of the production and technology. They also have announced plans to launch to their own AV ride-hailing fleet in 2019.
- EV: At the 2018 Geneva Motor Show FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) CEO Sergio Marchionne admitted that his company made a mistake in underestimating the rise of electric vehicles. Fortunately for FCA, this admission comes after they have implemented plans to electrify their brands’ cars, though only one vehicle is rumored to be all-electric – a high-end Maserati – and the rest will be hybrids. Bottom line is FCA is a laggard in adopting EV technology.
- AV: Though they may be behind in EVs, FCA has been heavily involved in the development of AVs. They have supplied Waymo with hundreds of minivans for testing and reached a deal this year to supply Waymo with “thousands” of minivans for use in Waymo’s new ride-hailing fleet. FCA also joined BMW and Intel/Mobileye in an alliance to develop AVs. FCA’s role in the partnership will be to add resources and expertise as well as act as the vendor for the planned AV platform.
- EV: Last year Volvo pledged to phase out ICE engines and by 2019 only offer hybrid or battery-powered vehicles. It was a major announcement being one of the first automakers to commit fully to EVs. From 2019 to 2021 they plan to introduce 5 all-electric vehicles and recently unveiled a high-end model from one of their sub-brands, Polestar, that will challenge Tesla’s Model S.
- AV: Volvo began a unique program called Drive Me where they were going to give 100 AVs to families in Sweden for testing, but in late 2017 scaled it back as the technology wasn’t ready yet. Separately, Uber announced last November that they would be buying as many as 24,000 self-driving Volvos, once the tech is viable, to put in its ride-hailing network. The deal’s terms were undisclosed but estimated to be worth around $1B. They had previously made a $300m deal together to develop AV technology.
Bottom line. We believe that autonomous drivers will be many times safer than human ones but will take longer than most people think to develop. Here at Loup Ventures the initiatives and timelines for AVs given by these companies strike us as ambitious and unlikely to be met. It is unlikely we see something like a fully operational autonomous fleet shuttling folks around in the next 5 years. We are enthusiastic and optimistic about this future of mobility but are managing expectations for how long it will truly take for the ubiquitous adoption of autonomous vehicles. As for electrification, we believe there is enough momentum and fewer hurdles for adoption that widespread use of battery-powered vehicles is imminent.
Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio. Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.