Pure Passion –

New technologies changing the automotive industry

Through alternative drive concepts and the digitalisation of the value chain, new players are stepping into the limelight.

An upside-down world. When the emissions scandal erupted in the media late last September, theoretically Apple Inc. could have simply bought up the premium German automakers. Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler in the hands of the world’s most valuable brand? It’s a scenario that is certainly no longer beyond the realm of possibility. Previously only a small minority of experts could imagine it. But now one thing is clear: the winds of digital change are blowing through the once im­pene­trable bastion of the automakers. A glance at the figures illustrates the power struggle: Apple, the manufacturer of computers, smartphones and entertainment electronics as well as various software products and applications, was valued at 582 billion euros on the stock exchange in the autumn of 2015. According to its own information, the company had cash reserves totalling nearly 180 billion euros. At the same point in time, Volks­wagen was worth a little less than 58 billion euros on the stock exchange. BMW and Daimler – unaffected by the emissions mess as far as we know today – were list­ed at 48 billion euros (BMW) and 71 billion euros (Daimler). Incredible, but true: if it had wanted to buy up the pearls of German industry, Apple could have paid the necessary 177 billion euros in cash. So much for theory. In practice, things look very different. The VW Law as well as the shares of the Porsche and Piëch families protect the Wolfsburg-based corporation. BMW is in the care of the Quandt and Klatten families, while Daimler’s stock is widely dispersed. The only large shares are held by the Emirate of Kuwait and the Renault/Nissan Group. That’s why the threat is coming from a completely different direction, because the American giant’s possible entry into the mobility business is none­theless real. Against the background of alternative drive concepts and the growing significance of the Internet and entertainment electronics on board vehicles as well as digi­tal value creation chains, Apple’s commitment would constitute a perfectly logical step. “Automotive progress today is determined above all by modern software.” Sebastian Thrun, former professor of artificial intelligence at Stanford University (USA) and vice-president of Google, revealed this to Manager Magazin back in 2014. The company’s entry into the mobility business is not official, however: in keeping with company tradition, Apple has made no official statement regarding any planned entry into the automobile business. Rumours of an “iCar” abound – bolstered by a whole series of telling clues. For quite some time now, for example, the Californians have been carrying out a massive expansion of their development department. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple’s automotive plans are being drawn up in a secret department dubbed “Project Titan” with a current staff of 600 employees. That number is reportedly projected to rise to as many as 1,800 employees. Production is predicted to begin in 2020. The long-term goal, according to the rumours, is to develop a self-driving car. According to those same rumours, an Apple iCar would initially be powered by conventional means.

Efficient and eco-friendly drive technologies

Google is another Internet giant that is developing a self-driving car. Controlled by a computer, the prototypes have travelled some 1.6 million kilometres. Total number of accidents: 12. According to Google, none of them were their fault. In the race to achieve efficient mobility, however, a completely different player leads the field at the moment. At Tesla Motors, Inc. the South Af­ri­can-born Elon Musk is producing electrically powered serial-production sports cars. For its zero-emission vehicles with a range of more than 400 kilometres, Tesla was named the world’s most innovative company by the American business magazine Forbes in 2015. All of Musk’s business experience has been channelled into the project. The entrepreneur, investor and inventor was known to the general public as an Internet services provider, especially with the payment service PayPal, and the establishment of the solar power company SolarCity. Tesla’s decisions, some of which met with consternation in the classic automotive industry, must also be considered against that background. With his roots in the new econ­omy, Musk recently released his patents, in order to force the free development of electric vehicles. Utterly foolish, as far as the industry is concerned. For a long time, Musk was ridiculed for having done it, and few took him very seriously. The Model S, a four-door luxury saloon with up to 422 hp (310 kW), would not have made it off the production line without Daimler know-how to overcome some of the major difficulties. The Stuttgart-based automaker received a 9% share of Tesla (later reduced to 4%), and in exchange Professor Thomas Weber, member of Daimler’s Board of Management responsible for R&D, sent former McKinsey consultant Jérôme Guillen and a handful of other employees to Tesla, in order to help them get the electric motor drive technology off to a successful start in serial production. Despite all the prophecies of doom, actions like these have enabled Musk to sail clear of the rocks in his path.

Meanwhile the assistance is no longer needed and Daimler has long since relinquished its holdings in Tesla. The visible result of Daimler’s California commitment is an electrified B-Class, the electric drive components of which still originate from Tesla. For Daimler, however, their compact car is only an intermediate step along the path to establishing a more efficient and also eco-friendly drive technology. At the competitor BMW, the new eco-friendly era is likewise in high gear. “Individual mobility and its industrialisation are experiencing radical technological change”, observes Manfred Poschenrieder, Spokesperson Innovation and Technology for the Bavarian automaker. BMW assumes that the automobile and its associated technologies will undergo more changes over the course of the next ten years than they did during the previous 50 years.