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An Interview With NVIDIA: “Make All Cars Autonomous”

My articles about the incumbent automotive industry are usually not at all friendly, and that is not done on purpose but is a result of a never-ending series of missed opportunities, wrong decisions, and ill-advised strategies they regularly annoy me with.

My articles about the incumbent automotive industry are usually not at all friendly, and that is not done on purpose but is a result of a never-ending series of missed opportunities, wrong decisions, and ill-advised strategies they regularly annoy me with.

A full decade has passed in which I get angry when I listen to so-called industry leaders saying what they are doing, not doing, have decided to do, or concluded. Writing is probably my way of getting rid of that anger. Writing is my Anger Therapy.

The examples I could list are almost endless, but one of my top 10 was the decision from Daimler to sell its stake in Tesla in 2014. I called it one of the dumbest moves in the history of automakers for two reasons: #1 Financials, #2 Technology.

First of all, the nearly 10% stake in Tesla that Daimler originally purchased in 2010 would be worth about $80 billion today, almost twice Daimler’s $45 billion market cap on Friday.

And secondly, by selling its stake, Daimler lost the arguably even more important seat on the Tesla Board of Directors, and with that critical access to information about batteries and autonomous technology that is essential to Daimler’s survival.

Daimler lost its ability to negotiate a potential new deal for Tesla to supply drivetrain technology to Mercedes-Benz, as it had for the B-Class. In those early days, Daimler did not believe Tesla would be able to deliver and considered the B-Class as a proof of concept. Even after Tesla provided a good electric battery and drivetrain, Daimler did not take the technology for battery electric vehicles seriously.

That lack of understanding of the future technology and demand for sustainable transportation is expressed in its first and only BEV designed in house, the EQC, a vehicle that has missed all expectations with only about 700 vehicles sold so far. To compare, the objective for 2020 is 50,000 units. Too late, too expensive, and too boring,” a core investor said about the EQC in the last shareholder meeting, in which CEO Ola Källenius announced an employee layoff. Daimler revealed this week that it will let 20,000 employees go to save €2 billion.

My anger boiled up again when I listened to a live press event 2 weeks ago in which Källenius and NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang released news about their strategic partnership on autonomous cars. I started my therapy session and wrote an article. (See that link.)

My thoughts received a lot of support and positive comments from my audience, which was expected — although, you never know. What was not expected is that after the article was released I received a request from NVIDIA asking if I would be interested in a conversation with the company’s Senior Director of Automotive, Danny Shapiro.

Usually, what you expect as an author after you express your not-so-friendly words in an article about a partnership between two companies is to NOT get an invitation for further events or conversations. I was positively surprised, but assumed that the request was initiated as a corrective measure about what I said and wrote, but I happily accepted.

I learned later, though, that I had been wrong.

Instead of trying to correct me or expressing justifications and explanations, like Ralf Brandstätter, CEO of the Volkswagen brand, did on LinkedIn, NVIDIA was truly only interested in a conversation, and I have therefore now gained even more respect for it.

It would be useful to have a conversation with the Senior Director of Automotive for NVIDIA, but I figured it would me much more valuable if I could publish the interview for others to see, and NVIDIA agreed to it. So, here it is, my conversation with Danny Shapiro, Senior Director of Automotive at NVIDIA, about autonomous driving, software, and the future of transportation. The summary title: “Make All Cars Autonomous.”

Featured Image courtesy of Danny Shapiro, NVIDIA

 
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Written By

Alex Voigt has been a supporter of the mission to transform the world to sustainable carbon free energy for 40 years. As an engineer, he is fascinated with the ability of humankind to develop a better future via the use of technology. With 30 years of experience in the stock market, he is invested in Tesla [TSLA], as well as some other tech companies, for the long term.

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