Autonomous Cars Driving Change in Automotive Manufacturing & Supply Chains

The long road to commercially available autonomous cars is almost at an end. A number of things will be changing when that happens. Chief among the changes is the way automotive manufacturers invest and sell their products.

What separates an autonomous car from a regular car is the onboard computer. Behind that technology are companies such as Intel, Qualcomm Inc. And Nvidia Corp. which provides the chips necessary for the computing power. Cars will need to be turned into essentially mobile data centers meaning that the competition for the future of autonomous cars isn’t only among car manufactures. It’ll also be with and between the world’s largest biggest tech companies.
 
There’s Big Business in Little Parts
 
As we approach the final lap on the course towards autonomous cars, automotive manufacturers have already started to change their sale tactics. Where manufacturers used to talk about horsepower, they’ve now started talking about processing power.
 
According to data compiled by Bloomberg, the total value of automotive supplier deals in 2015 and 2016 were $74.4 billion. For some context, each of those years far exceeded the $17.7 billion annual average of the previous 10 years.
 
“The number of transactions valued at $500 million or more also skyrocket to 18 last year, triple the level of the previous decade” writes Elisabeth Behrmann, Polina Noskova, and Aaron Kirchfeld from the same Bloomberg article. “There have been 11 such deals so far this year.”
 
An example is Intel. Its automotive business is currently involved in 30 vehicle programs on the road. By 2020, the company is set to increase that number to 49 with orders worth $1 billion according to the Wall Street Journal.
 
Many of the deals are still done with makers of powertrain and chassis components. However, electronics-related acquisitions are growing the fastest. Some estimates have the cost of electronics in car manufacturing growing to 50% by 2030, up from around 30% in 2015. A portion of resources have also gone into securing the proper know-how to ensure that their cars have the necessary sensors, cameras, radar, and computing power necessary to safety assess traffic conditions and see their environment as a driver would.
 
Phone to Pocket PC, Car to Mobile Entertainment Hub
 
One of the biggest innovations over the last two decades has been in finding new uses for old products. TVs grew ‘smart’, watches and shoes graduated into personal trainers, and cell phones evolved into pocket PCs. Today’s new technology is sold with the promises of greater efficiency and consolidation. Autonomous cars will be no different.
 
For as useful as cars are in our everyday lives, they spend close to 95% of the time unused. This means there is a big opportunity for the manufacturers of autonomous cars. Captive consumers will be surrounded by the technology for an average of at least five hours a week. The challenge will not just be how to commercially manufacture autonomous cars, but also in building a platform that connects software developers with the passengers.
 
As Nokia and Blackberry demonstrated in the past, consumers need more than just an effective product. They also need their devices to consolidate their consumption of media.
 
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