We recently hosted a Mobility + Auto Tech networking dinner with Tesla, General Motors, Cepton, Metamoto and other key market players in attendance alongside reporters covering the latest industry news. The Antenna dinner continued important conversations that took place during the Autonomous Vehicles Silicon Valley event. The changing automaker business model and the issue of intellectual property were key drivers — pun intended — of the dinner dialogue.
A Changing Business Model
Many automakers anticipate they will achieve Level 4 or Level 5 functionality by the year 2021. Yet the recent pedestrian death during a self-driving test on public roadways in Arizona highlights the many societal and policy uncertainties that must be addressed before AVs are widely adopted.
Regardless of exact timeline, automakers are anticipating what Boston Consulting Group is calling the, “most profound challenge to their business models in a century.” Carmakers are anticipating this industry shift by investing or partnering with a diverse group of start-ups and tech partners to help implement innovations on a larger scale. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers are recognizing the need to engage with these groups to more effectively develop automated driving systems.
As the telecommunications and automotive industries become more closely connected through self-driving technologies, intellectual property is another top-of-mind issue. Mobility companies are deciding whether to file for patents, knowing revolutionary technology can catch the attention of new competitors. In 2014, Tesla shared its electric vehicle technology patents, “in the spirit of the open source movement.” In contrast, WD-40 famously refused to patent its lubricant product to avoid publicly sharing its formula, and now we’d be hard pressed to name a competing brand.
Open sourcing makes sense for an established industry giant like Tesla, as it encourages other emerging companies to build upon its foundational technology. But if a young start-up files for a patent, it can be difficult to maintain an edge in a space inhabited by countless emerging businesses and large corporations. The question of whether to patent will remain top of mind for mobility leaders.
Change within the industry is not unprecedented. Toyota first launched as a textile machinery company developing looms before transitioning from thread to tread in 1936. Even though it’s unlikely the biggest players will make a change as drastic as Toyota once did, they will have to adapt. As we shared in our top cleantech industry trend predictions for 2018, there is no margin for error for emerging AV market players. The need for public education and communication planning is enormous. If you’re on board, there’s much more to learn about Antenna’s mobility practice and how we’re facilitating these important conversations with industry leaders.