Autonomous Vehicles

Published on March 19th, 2017 | by Matthew Klippenstein

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A Lucid Vision Of Luxury, & GM’s Autonomous Lyft Leadership (Cleantech Talk #31)

March 19th, 2017 by  

After a brief hiatus, Cleantech Talk is back! Again! For good this time, we promise…! 🙂

This comeback article (after holidays and illness) tackles two of the most exciting stories of the year so far — the Lucid Air unveiling (and Nick’s time in the Air!) and a coming fleet of autonomous Chevy Bolt EVs for Lyft.

You can listen and subscribe to Cleantech Talk on iTunes or Soundcloud. You can also listen via the embedded player below or download this episode. Show notes follow the embedded player.

Lucid Luxe

Nicolas recently attended the Lucid Air unveiling, and came away concluding the car deserved raves and fanfare. (See here and here.)  Considering the pedigree — CTO Peter Rawlinson and Director of Powertrain David Moseley worked on early Tesla vehicles — that shouldn’t be surprising.

What might be surprising is the four-seat configuration, with the decision to create two expansively spacious rear passenger seats instead of cramming a third seat in the middle. Considering how infrequently luxury car buyers probably use that fifth seat (if they needed that many seats, they’d probably choose a large luxury SUV), one wonders if the Lucid Air presages a trend towards four-seaters in the crossover/sedan segment.

For many consumer goods, there’s room at the high end for several luxury brands. If Lucid can execute the rest of its business plan the way it has done so far (Lucid seems to have a good team and sufficient funding), it has a good chance of surviving the Darwinian winnowing of the global automotive market. That is, of course, a big “if.”

AutoBolts, Roll Out!

GM’s announcement that it would deploy 1000s of autonomous Bolts next year was a shocker for many of us, because we’ve been conditioned to think of Tesla as the autonomy leader. Well, no more (we think). GM lapped Tesla’s Model 3 with the Chevy Bolt, and now it seems set to lap Tesla’s Autopilot (SAE Level 2 autonomy) with an almost fully autonomous fleet (SAE Level 4 autonomy).

(True, Google/Waymo has more miles and the best miles-per-disengagement in California DMV statistics, but Google/Waymo reportedly has no plans to build cars. That still leaves an enormous market for industrial trucks — mines in particular — for Waymo to feast on. We actually don’t actually know yet if Tesla will have a self-driving Lyft competitor in place by the time the self-driving Lyft Bolts roll out.)

Autoline’s esteemed and influential John McElroy went so far as to say the race for autonomous vehicles was over, and that Detroit won. Technically, he said that Silicon Valley lost, but his main point was that the legacy incumbents successfully defended their turf.

Bay Area entrepreneurs dreamed of creating the Android or iOS of autonomous vehicle platforms. By analogy, the carmakers would become commodity cellular network providers. GM’s autonomy leadership proves the major players will build (or use acquisitions to bring) that expertise in-house.

The decision to deploy these autonomous Bolts (with supervisory engineers) through Lyft makes a lot of sense as well, because it provides a nice little sandbox in which to test the technology. Instead of struggling to handle the weather, signage, road quality, and other vagaries of driving in all 50 states, GM can focus on training the Bolts to handle every street and situation in Silicon Valley. This should make it a lot easier for the fleet to achieve mastery there (Level 5 autonomy!) and presumably help GM understand what kind of testing would be required to achieve Level 5 autonomy everywhere.

Those of us who underestimated GM (and the other automaker OEMs, in general) have to give credit where it’s due — the Bolt’s arrival and autonomous announcement are a powerful one-two punch. GM has played its cards well, and it bears asking what else the legacy auto giant has up its sleeve.

Photos by Lucid Motors and Kyle Field | CleanTechnica


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About the Author

is a professional engineer and plug-in electric vehicle enthusiast. A member of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, he lives with his family in the nearby suburb of Burnaby, tweets at @EclecticLip and blogs occasionally at www.eclecticlip.com. A thirteen-year veteran of the fuel cell industry with Ballard Power Systems, he was part of the micro-CHP product team which won the American Electrochemical Society New Technology Award in 2007, and co-authored the company's white paper on the future of electricity ("electron-democracy") for a McKinsey & Company essay series to which Steven Chu and Andy Grove also contributed. In roles spanning research, product design and production, he helped the company scale-up from discrete manual assembly to continuous, automated roll-to-roll processing, with the company manufacturing its 1,000,000th production-line MEA (membrane-electrode assembly) in 2010.



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