Fully autonomous vehicles are coming, maybe not in 2020 but they will be here between 2025 and 2030. This will require massive investments today to deliver big returns tomorrow, but a zero-accident, zero-fatality mobility is a truly fantastic target. The number of road deaths remains at an unacceptable level, about 1.25 million a year, according to the World Health Organization.
In addition to saying lives, some automakers believe that their highly connected autonomous vehicles will offer another benefit: profits from the lucrative data that they hope to sell to tech companies such as Apple and Google.
For a long time, it felt like I was the only one who thought that automakers would have as much luck selling data to tech companies as they would have selling cabriolets in the North Pole. Then I read a report from analyst Max Warburton of Sanford C. Bernstein in London. Warburton thinks that data will be as valuable as oil or gold -- but not for automakers.
There is no doubt that information on where the car is and what it's being used for would help companies sell products and services to an autonomous car's occupants. There are also multiple opportunities to deliver advertising messages to everyone riding in the vehicle. Warburton, however, struggles to understand what unique information automakers have to offer via the car that isn't already available on a person's mobile phone. Google and Apple know where you are, where you are going, who you are in touch with, what the weather and road conditions are like and what you just looked at or bought.
Warburton also rightly points out that a mobile phone provides all this data every day while a person only spends about 5 percent of each day in the car.
Therefore, there is no "looming battle" between Google and automakers for control of the relationship with the consumer and the risk of "letting Google in" is unfounded, Warburton believes. "This is silly. It's not just that Google has won the battle. There was never a battle in the first place," Warburton notes in his report.
An interesting question is: Why do automakers have such high hopes that they will be able to sell such a small amount of data for a such a big price? Warburton blames the consultants who are marching into automakers' boardrooms to warn executives that their companies' futures are at risk because of the forthcoming disruption. They tell the executives the data in their cars could provide them with a "$1 trillion opportunity," Warburton said.
Several automakers believe this is true while others are much more realistic. For instance, earlier this year Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne said: "Talk to consultants and they tell you the most valuable thing you have is data. We then go to Google and ask them what they'll pay for it -- and they say we've already got it. You've got to be very careful before building economic models around this." Warburton and I could not agree more