<blockquote>The big brands are not unaware of this shift at all, [...] the car business is far more diverse, and doesn't gravitate to one pole the way IT does. [...] If there's something you're not considering, I think it's how the average customer will treat autonomy. For personal transport, it's not a product category, but rather a feature. An important feature, but a feature nonetheless, and one that may not be too desirable outside of the unique traffic environment of the mass-transit-starved SF Bay.</blockquote>
It's true, the demands put towards a car are very diverse and change from region to region and between each customer. I can only regard trends I see developing here in Germany, and the trend here is towards not owning a car anymore at all. Many urbanites these days just register with a car-sharing service and pick up a car somewhere in the neighborhood when they need one. This is of course vastly different in the US where public transport is not as developed and where usually longer distances are involved. But with that generation autonomous driving seems to be very popular, because despite needing a car every now and then they are not keen on driving. And of course they are not at all brand-loyal, excited by horses or torque or in need of color-matched contrast stitched leather seats or legendary panel gaps. They don't own the car, they just happen to drive it whereever and want it to be as simple as possible. Autonomy is an important feature, while many of the other features that make the brand identity of certain manufacturers are losing importance very, very fast.
<blockquote>You drive a BMW. BMW does not make its own transmissions. [...] Similarly, everything in the interior of your car is made not by BMW, but by other companies: Adient (seats), Faurecia (dashboard trim), Magnetti Marelli (switchgear and instrumentation, and external lighting). [...] This is how the car business works. Most "innovative technologies" pioneered by car brands are from third-party suppliers who specialise in these things.</blockquote>
Exactly, thanks for reaffirming this, I brought up those exact points in a previous post in this thread (currently 5th post down from top).
<blockquote>So, let's say BMW wants to make autonomous cars on one side, and Uber/Google/whoever wants to make autonomous cars on the other. Whereas the Silicon Valley people have to source and build everything around their big feature to make a car from it, the likes of BMW simply has to find one of the many autonomous-vehicle companies and strike a deal with them to build that killer feature into a BMW.</blockquote>
Generally, you are right of course. Two points though: this can cut both ways. Silicon Valley cash reserves rival many nations annual GDP. There might just be a buyout of an established but struggling carmaker by the Valley that then starts to churn out the whatever-car. Valley likes to buy turn-key solutions and an established manufacturer will have all the machines, sources, personnel, dealership network and know-how. That is my point, making a car today is not black magic anymore. The autonomy development is, the rest is up for grabs on the market if you have the cash.
Also, if BMW sources the "killer feature" components from a 3rd party, how can they claim that BMW is / will remain in the driving seat regarding autonomous driving in the future. That is a major claim I am in disagreement with.
Also, there is the difference in company liability between the USA and Germany. In a nutshell, before something can be marketed in Europe, you have to conclusively prove that your product works as advertised, is safe and won't cause damage or hurt/maim/kill people. In the USA you essentially have a free-for-all situation where a company can throw a product out, but then if it fails and causes damage or loss of life the lawyers are rubbing their hands. I am not sure how that difference can be squared between a german manufacturer and a US supplier, especially when the determination of safety is so immensely complex. For tires, shocks or other products the determination is easily done in a lab prior to approval.
So, my point remains, I am relatively certain that the major german manufacturers will get seriously sideswiped in the not too distant future by a product with superior autonomous features that they thumbed their noses at before, like the Tesla. And playing the catch-up game on two fronts, electric mobility and autonomous driving might prove impossible and drive them into a tiny niche or bankruptcy. The arrogance displayed by the BMW bloke mentioned in the article is very uncalled for.
<blockquote>If it's "just mechanical engineering", why has Waymo/Google abandoned its grand plans to build autonomous cars, and partnered with Fiat-Chrysler instead? </blockquote>
The last I read about that is that Google does not plan to follow the completely autonomous vehicle without wheels or pedals any further and has shifted that branch of development off towards Waymo. Regarding the Fiat/Chrysler deal, the last bit I read was that Google took delivery of 100 Chrysler vehicles to enlargen their test fleet. This suggest to me that they are not quite there yet, but not exactly giving up either. I am not sure if this qualifies as a partnership. With those ugly LIDAR contraption on the roof of the Chrysler Pacifica vehicles I am very sure that this is not a pre-production prototype but just a technology testbed that could just as well have been delivered by any manufacturer. But maybe I misread that or missed specifics of that deal.