Detroit does not want to be overtaken

THE CAR EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: General Motors CEO Barra introducing the Chevy Bolt, an electric car with a 320km driving range, during a keynote address at CES on Wednesday in Las Vegas, Nevada.


    Jan 08, 2016

    Detroit does not want to be overtaken


    BIG carmakers have spent several years watching their stock prices drift while the valuations of upstarts such as Uber and Tesla soared.

    This week, the car empire struck back at the would-be disruptors of its century-old business model.

    On Monday, General Motors said it would invest US$500 million (S$718 million) in ride-hailing company Lyft, its most aggressive move yet into a future where on-demand ride services threaten to replace car ownership and robots could unseat human drivers.

    GM's move and others underscore Detroit's determination to battle Silicon Valley for dominance of clean urban transport.

    Ford Motor used this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to announce that Toyota Motor, the No. 1 global carmaker, will use Ford software to connect smartphones to dashboards and join Ford in promoting that SmartDeviceLink system to other automakers.

    Executives from Germany's Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen promoted their effort to design vehicles using mapping technology not from Google, but from Here, a European mapping company the German luxury carmakers bought last year.

    This week's events mark a turning point in the power struggle between car and tech companies, analysts say.

    At stake are potentially trillions of dollars in revenue from selling both vehicles and "mobility services" - ride sharing, car sharing, connections to mass transit, travel services, repair work and access to valuable data on what consumers do with and in their cars.

    Carmakers may need major stakes in such emerging industries to replace potentially massive losses, over time, in traditional car sales to individuals.

    "The tension will increase. These areas (automotive and tech) are converging, and now will hit head-on," said Jeffrey Owens, chief technology officer of big car supplier Delphi Automotive.

    "The winners are those who create some of the disruption themselves."

    GM executives say that is their aim. Its chief executive Mary Barra used a speech at CES to unveil the production version of the Chevrolet Bolt, an electric car with a 320km driving range that GM said it will start selling within a year at about US$35,000.

    The Bolt's estimated range and price match what Tesla, the Palo Alto electric carmaker, has been promising for years.

    The Bolt is also the first GM car designed from the start to be attractive to car sharing services, said Pam Fletcher, executive chief engineer for electric vehicles.

    The car can download a driver's personal settings for radio and displays - and change when a different driver uses the car.

    GM can benefit in another way from promoting the Bolt to ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

    Selling electric cars to individual consumers has so far yielded meagre sales for GM and other mainstream automakers.

    But the economics of using an electric car for urban and suburban ride sharing are better, and sales to ride-sharing services could help GM meet electric car sales mandates that will be ratcheting up over the next several years in California and other states seeking to crack down on greenhouse gas pollution.

    At Ford, CEO Mark Fields said the company will allocate more capital towards ventures designed to capture a share of a market for transport services beyond building and selling vehicles.

    At Ford, as at rivals, the electrification of vehicles will merge with efforts to develop vehicles that can drive themselves.

    Ford plans to put a fleet of 30 autonomous, plug-in hybrid Ford Fusions on the road as it accelerates efforts to develop cars that can drive themselves.