Monday, May 16, 2016

Fiat CEO Sets a Timeline for Self-driving Cars

Fiat CEO sets a timeline for self-driving cars

Ask just about any automaker and they’ll tell you self-driving cars are likely an inevitability. But at least one brand is willing to put a timeline on the project. Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne recently told the Associated Press driver-less cars could be on the road within five years.

Marchionne, whose company is working closely with Google on the project, said self-driving cars offer “tremendous use in real life …”

The pilot for the program will be the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which will be equipped with self-driving sensors and computers and built at FCA’s plant in Windsor, Ontario.

The partnership with Google signals a difference of perspective for Fiat Chrysler when compared to their competitors in the auto market. Most car manufacturers have chosen to go it alone rather than work with tech companies to solve the various problems associated with developing self-driving cars. Because Google was already working on the problems, Marchionne saw a connection, not a conflict of interest.

The CEO told the AP, going it alone to avoid working with others is “a dangerous path, at least in our view. We need to get to the stage where the car is viable before we can discuss the spoils.”

This perspective of performance before profits gives Chrysler an early lead in the race to develop a driverless car, and that may translate into an insurmountable lead in the consumer race for leadership in this technology. As with electric and hybrid cars, the companies that got there first earned the perception of leaders in the industry, a position that has to be won or abdicated in the consumer mind. Put simply: once the leader, always the leader, unless you slip up and let someone else steal your thunder.

In this scenario, Google had already tested self-driving cars, but there were some doubts about viability. After all, Google is a tech company, not an automaker. The team-up works well for both, from a public relations perspective. Google brings tested technology, and Fiat Chrysler brings the heft of a trusted leader in the automotive industry.

The race is on, they have the lead … now they have a deadline to meet.

David Milberg is a New York City based investment expert.

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