In a Financial Times article this week talking about Ford and NVIDIA’s (News - Alert) recent massive expansion into silicon valley, they talked about the fact that carmakers from all over the world have been quietly setting up labs here to design the cars of the future. Tesla is the most visible result of a car designed predominantly like you would design a Consumer Electronics product, and it is both the best car on the road today and the most different from how cars have typically been designed.
Since most of you have never owned or driven a Tesla let’s use it as a template to talk about where the rest of the industry is going.
Mirrors are Dead
One of the first things you’ll see go is mirrors. I can recall a scene from the first Bubblegum Rally movie (the Bubblegum Rally is a coast to coast often illegal race done largely in secret) where the Ferrari driver rips off his rear view mirror and claims “Ferrari drivers don’t care about what is behind them”. The reality is, we do and mirrors have been around since nearly the beginning to help us see what is approaching from our backside.
The Tesla X is slated to have cameras instead of mirrors, which coupled with wide angle lenses offer more freedom with regard to placement and allow you to see far better. However, the carmaker is having trouble getting this through the DMV, which is identified as one of the reasons their new Tesla X crossover may be late. But you can see in the pictures of the car (in the linked article above) the mirrors are gone even though the test mule that has been spotted here in the valley still has them.
A Tablet On Wheels
If you drive a Tesla it really is very much like if you took an iPad and wrapped a car around it. The huge center display works as the touch control center of the car and it is having an influence on other designs. For instance the new F-Pace SUV coming from Jaguar was at least initially going to have something similar based on the CX-17 prototype. In this case they broke up the tablet into two parts, an upper and a lower part, for design reasons, but if you visually combine the two parts the display appears to be in the same class with Tesla’s.
This isn’t the only place that is getting the display treatment. The Tesla S instrument cluster is basically another long, thin tablet on its side. NVIDIA is much of the technology behind the appearance of both efforts and the next Audi TT will have an even better implementation of it.
This has been getting a lot of attention of late and the processing power needed to do this work likely has every major chip maker salivating. The new Tesla S is expected to be first in the market with this capability in limited form and new owners are just waiting for a software patch to enable it. Most everyone else will have to wait until a next generation car hits the market. Initially this will allow advanced automatic parking near autonomous driving on freeways but future far more intelligent cars will actually be able to pick you up in the morning and drop you off at night, a capability that only the very rich could historically afford.
An Appliance Experience
What is both sad and funny is that right now many electric car owners who should be getting an appliance experience are being ripped off by their dealerships. These dealerships have been charging for oil changes and other maintenance services that gas cars need but electrics, because they are more like an appliance, don’t. There is very little that needs regular adjustment on an electric, removing the need for the expensive services and related time and money lost that is tied to the service. With a connected appliance like the Tesla, the car determines when it needs service, what kind of service is needed and most of the updates are done over the air, automatically so you never have to worry about them.
Tesla sells like Apple (News - Alert) mostly does through its own stores. This results in lower overhead and better customer interactions. Buying a Tesla is not too dissimilar to buying an iPad at an Apple store and the overall experience is far more intimate because the car is always connected. This means, over time, rather than going to the dealership, the dealership will come to you, but only when it knows you want to see them. Eventually, I expect, you’ll buy your new car from your home like most of us currently buy our electronic devices. We’ll fill out a form with regard what we want, it will be built for us, and when ready they’ll drive your new car over and take your old car back in exchange.
You’ll also pay for the car much like you now pay for other services like Smartphones. You’ll get a monthly bill and every three to four years you’ll have the option of swapping your old car for a new one with a slightly higher payment or in paying a fixed upgrade charge to bring your old car in-line with a new one and either keep the same payment or maybe even get a lower payment if you are willing to keep the same car longer.
End Game: Uber
If we move out 10 years, the path we are on is for an intelligent car that can pick you up in the morning and drop you off at home at night. Uber is betting that sometime between now and then you’ll likely decide you don’t need to own a car at all, but will be willing to share one from a service like Uber. You’ll pay a monthly fee and get an experience similar to what rich people get with chauffeurs. In 10 years the need for driving schools may no longer exist because the vast majority of us will leave the driving to the car or service. That future car, according to Mercedes, will look more like a living room on wheels than anything we have on the road today.
You can see why companies like NVIDIA are so excited about this because at that point the cars will be massively intelligent using massive computational power in line with the Supercomputers in the market today. I’ve often wondered how I’d feel if my car was smarter than I am, given my life depends on how well the car I’m riding in is driven, I’m thinking that having a car smarter than I am would be a very good thing.