Automakers are increasingly turning to non-traditional suppliers to bridge the knowledge gap they face as they try to keep pace with rising demand for in-car connectivity and autonomous driving. To stay on top of these changes vehicle manufacturers are working closer than ever with companies that have honed their expertise by working in rapidly evolving sectors such as software development, data management, telecommunications and user-interface systems.
"Due to the need for rapid innovation, OEMs are pursuing relationships with fast-moving companies with a Silicon Valley mentality," Dan Galves, senior vice president and chief communications officer at camera-software company Mobileye, told Automotive News Europe. Israel-based Mobileye recently joined with chipmaker Intel and BMW to make self-driving vehicles a reality by 2021. As BMW said in a statement about the venture: "Transportation providers of the future must harness rapidly evolving technologies, collaborate with totally new partners and prepare for disruptive opportunities."
Ralph Lauxmann, senior vice president of systems and technology at Continental's chassis and safety division, agrees with BMW's view. "The complexity of the systems and the areas in which you have to integrate know-how into your components is growing and growing," Lauxmann told ANE.
Venturing beyond the traditional supplier base has not been easy for an industry accustomed to doing things one way for a long time. What has helped change that mindset is a big shift in how automakers think about the talent they need. Having hired in its own likeness for decades, the industry is now recruiting senior executives with backgrounds in consumer electronics, gaming and digital technology. For these executives, collaboration is in their DNA. Recent high-profile hires include former Nokia executive Ogi Redzic as vice president for connected vehicles and mobility services at Renault-Nissan while ex-Yahoo executive Brigitte Cantaloube has become PSA Group's first chief digital officer.
Silicon Valley-based chipmaker Nvidia, which has been well known in gaming circles for more than 20 years, is a good example of the integration of a non-traditional supplier into an automotive setting. Nvidia's technology has the capability to provide the vast amounts of graphics processing power that connected, autonomous cars need. Nvidia’s graphics cards play a key role in Audi's virtual cockpit. In addition, the supplier’s Drive PX 2 supercomputer, which helps vehicles recognize objects around them and decide what actions to take, will be used by Volvo in an autonomous-car pilot program that starts next year in Sweden. More than 70 companies are working with Nvidia’s supercomputer.
In some ways it was a short walk to Nvidia for the automakers, many of which were using Nvidia’s graphics cards in their computer aided design systems. It was a known entity. That is not the case with many new suppliers that are entering the automotive sector, but the difference is that car manufacturers and suppliers are more willing to engage with less established startups. Some companies are actively courting them.