Last Thursday I heard that Dyson is toying with the idea of making a car. Why on earth?
Not to say that Dyson isn’t a top notch engineering operation and doesn’t have a strong brand. But going bumper to bumper with Apple in a sector that eats cash—ask Tesla—like a giant tape worm and increasingly requires software skills as much if not more than hardware engineering skills?
A car is essentially a distributed supercomputer fed by sensors on wheels and relying on such arcana as predictive analytics and machine ‘learning’ as, in tech supremo Marc Andreessen words: ‘’software will eat the world.’’
Bear in mind, too, that Apple is probably the greatest generator of ‘free cash’ there’s ever been and at the last count had over $200 billion net cash on its balance sheet.
And it’s not just Apple among the insurgents. Most notably, there’s Google, the now legendary pioneer of totally ‘self-drive’ cars, and almost certainly poised to enter the mainstream motor market itself, perhaps via robot car taxi services. Then, too, there’s Uber, which has commandeered much of the Carngie-Mellon robotics and electronics faculty to develop a robot taxi.
But those insurgents and others expecting to reap a rich harvest in China know that the Chinese internet giants, the BAT group—Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent—all have car projects underway for the era of the ‘mobile internet’ and ‘streaming’ services and content. They are backed as ‘National Champions’ by the Party-State and thus with lakes of ‘patience money’ and State orchestrated blocks against foreign competitors. Tesla has already run into such blocks.
The legacy motor makers—the BMWs and Fords of the world– face gathering and compounding ‘disruptive forces’ in a sector that’s rattling with overcapacity, on wafer thin margins and may well have passed ‘peak demand’ in the US, Europe and Japan.
So let’s a step back and look at what cars, at least cars aimed at ‘urban millennials’—people born between 1980-2002—are going to be like in 2020. Clue: two-thirds of millennials admit that they text while driving. So think, twice,before lending a ‘millennial’ your car.
Shortly before he died, Steve Jobs told John Markof of the New Yorlk Times that if he’d had more energy he’d like to have “taken on Detroit.”
Tim Cook’s took up the mantle and the ‘top secret’ but deliberately and selectively ‘leaky’ Project Titan is now well underway having burgled scarce talent wholesale from, eg, Tesla, Fiat-Chrysler and leading battery companies, and signed up Paul Furgale from the leading edge Autonomous Systems Lab at ETH Zurich as well as doing a huge amount of due diligence on the fine details BMW’s i3 e-car.
Clear then: Project Titan is all about bringing the ultimate all electric, fully autonomous mobile device to market, maybe as something you subscribe to rather than buy or lease.
A couple of years back, Cook talking about the TV—actually a probably shelved Apple project—said ‘’when I go into may living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I’ve gone backwards in time by 20 or 30 years.’’
Substitute ‘car’ for TV and you have the base case for the Apple car, and maybe for the Dyson car as well.
A huge revolution is brewing.
We’ll suggest next time where to invest and it’s not in Apple, Google or Tesla with cars in mind.