The Autonomous-Car Battle is Blurring Lines Between Major Players

The autonomous-car battle shouldn’t be Silicon Valley versus Detroit, it should be technology companies working hand-in-hand with automakers, reports The Detroit News.

Vineeth Joel Patel
    Jul 23, 2017 9:10 AM  PT
The Autonomous-Car Battle is Blurring Lines Between Major Players
author: Vineeth Joel Patel   

Ever since automakers and technology companies started eyeing an autonomous future, there's been a battle between Silicon Valley and Detroit. The tech companies in California are trying to one-up the automakers in Michigan. But as a recent report from The Detroit News states, the battle to make driverless vehicles is blurring state lines. 

Silicon Valley Faces Off Against Detroit

As the outlet pointed out, in the beginning, Silicon Valley faced off against Detroit's traditional manufacturing ability with brilliant engineers and developers capable of developing high-tech goodies. Since then, the question of which part of the United States would be the first to come out with a mainstream self-driving vehicle came to light, and still exists, in some form or another, today. 

As The Detroit News claims, various outlets put their own spin on things, but they vary drastically. Wired, for instance, put out an article earlier this year in April titled, "Detroit Is Stomping Silicon Valley In The Self-Driving Car Race." A few days later, Robotics Trends penned a piece claiming, "No, Detroit Isn't Beating Silicon Valley." So which one is it? 

Well, as The Detroit News states, with major automakers like General Motors and Ford investing in Silicon Valley operations, and California-based companies partnering with Detroit automakers, the lines between the two locations have blurred. 

Leaders In Silicon Valley Are Impressed With Detroit

In interviews with major players in Silicon Valley, the outlet found that attitudes towards those in Detroit are shifting. Christopher Heiser at Renovo Auto, for instance, became a name in the industry when he helped create a self-driving DeLorean that could do donuts on its own. Heiser doesn't believe that one area has to dominate the autonomous scene, reports the outlet. 


"The Detroit versus Silicon Valley narrative has never held water," Heiser said in an email to The Detroit News. "This isn't an either-or proposition. The only way automated vehicles make it to scale is for automotive companies to work with technology partners they trust. The tech companies that get it – The complexity, the safety-critical nature of cars – those are the ones helping to make driving safer and more efficient. Bringing all the pieces together is the challenge, and collaboration is the solution." 

The Detroit Three Invest In California

The changes in attitude go both ways, though. The outlet reports that Ford has been present in Palo Alto, Ca. since 2015, and by the end of this year, the automaker has plans to open a huge autonomous facility in the area, as well. The new building comes shortly after the automaker's announcement that it would invest $1 billion in Argo Ai, an artificial-intelligence company. 

Ford isn't the only automaker from Detroit to spread its legs across the country, as the outlet points towards GM's acquisition of Cruise Automation as the main piece of its self-driving car research. Earlier this April, GM received $8 million in tax credits that it used to expand its autonomous car research near Silicon Valley. 

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles may not have the same presence in Silicon Valley as the other Detroit-based automakers, but the automaker has partnered with one of the best self-driving companies in the country, Waymo. Waymo recently put its original Firefly car out of commission in favor of FCA's Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which is a massive deal for the automaker. 

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With the Detroit Three investing their autonomous future in Silicon Valley, the trends have not been lost on leaders in California, states The Detroit News. "I think it shows that Old Detroit is really evolving to start…I would say lead innovation," said Nakul Duggal, vice president of product management for Qualcomm.

According to the outlet, Duggal also added that traditional automotive companies, like the Detroit Three, are moving towards becoming service provides capable of using technology to improve their existing vehicles for an autonomous future. "I think all of these moves are what you might expect for technology leaders and market leaders to be able to be prepared for what's coming in the future," said Duggal. 

Partnerships Reign Supreme

Besides having a physical presence in California, the Detroit Three are also creating partnerships that have drawn attention from industry leaders, claims The Detroit News. "Ford is investing in Argo, GM has Cruise," said Sean Wix, a technical marketing team member for Nvidia. "Everyone is buying into this whole (artificial intelligence) thing and is spending a lot of money on it." 

The director of Stanford's Dynamic Design Lab in Palo Alto, J. Christian Gerdes, appreciates what the Detroit Three are doing. But he also took some time to point out some things that the automakers aren't doing. 

"It is still, in my mind, almost like magic what the auto industry can produce and sell for something in the $15,000 to $20,000 range," Gerdes said. "It blows my mind that that's possible…There is a lot of expertise in the auto industry around volume manufacturing, around safety-critical systems, around a lot of these design aspects that are, honestly, hard to duplicate." 

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Where The Detroit Three Can Improve

Gerdes also pointed out some things that Detroit-based automakers aren't doing well. "But it's also hard, in a company that is set up and organized around pricing that magic, to also necessarily stay on top of all the new possibilities and all of the new technologies," he said. Gerdes continued, "That gives smaller companies the opportunity to be innovative and really push the boundaries." 

In regard to smaller companies that are pushing boundaries, The Detroit News points towards Lucid Motors as a noteworthy example. The company, after scouring 60 different locations across 13 different states, reports the outlet, chose Casa Grande, Ariz., which is located south of Phoenix, as the home of its manufacturing plant. An interesting choice, as the industry sees Detroit and Silicon Valley as the only locations to do autonomous-related things. 

The same trend can be seen for other major cities. Phoenix, as The Detroit News states, has become the home for Ford, Uber Technologies, Waymo, Ford, and Intel Corporation. Uber has also done extensive testing in Pittsburgh, as well. And, as the outlet points out, new companies are choosing diverse locations, like Torc Robotics who recently made camp in Blacksburg, Va. 

There is a problem, though, as The Detroit News claims that leaders in Silicon Valley aren't attentive to what's going on in the rest of the country. The outlet states that the majority of companies in the glorified-tech area feel as if there's no competition over autonomous or electric vehicles. 

That's not only a shame, but also a huge mistake. In order for autonomous cars to go mainstream, everyone will have to work together. Automakers, like the Detroit Three, have the cars, while tech companies in California have the necessary hardware and software to give automobiles their self-driving capabilities. Instead of battling over which city have the goods, companies and automakers need to forget about state lines, and come together to make an autonomous future possible.

via: The Detroit News