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Autonomous Vehicles

Rivian Thinks It Can Derive $15,500 In Subscription Income From Every Vehicle It Sells

When Rivian filled for its IPO recently, the documents revealed some surprising things. As Carolyn Fortuna points out, they show the company has burned through a sizable chunk of cash trying to get its business off the ground. In 2020, it lost just over $1 billion. In the first half of this year, it lost nearly a billion dollars more.

There were lots of other interesting things tucked away in all those filing documents as well. Motor Trend reports that all Rivian vehicles will have Level 3 self driving technology baked in, but it will be behind a paywall. Owners can either pay an additional $10,000 up front or opt for a monthly subscription. Other subscriptions will be available for infotainment, connectivity, diagnostics, and other services.

In all, Rivian told the SEC it expects to generate $15,500 in extra income per vehicle over its expected 10 year useful life — $10,000 for the Level 3 self driving package and an additional $5,500 for all those other subscription add ons. That’s assuming people decide to pay for them.

Its vehicles will come standard with Driver+, which uses the vehicle’s adaptive cruise control and lane centering systems, and is further supported by its automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, forward collision warning, dynamic brake support, lane keep assist, highway assist, and park assist systems. Lane change assist and trailer assist may be available later as over-the-air software updates.

Driver+ utilizes 11 cameras (including one that watches to make sure the driver is engaged), 12 ultrasonic sensors, 5 radars, and a high-precision GPS antenna to monitor the environment around the vehicle. It is partially hands free but does require the driver to be prepared to take over control of the wheel at a moment’s notice. It supports but does not replace attention, judgment, and driver control. It’s a collection of Level 2 active safety features that control motor, braking, and steering systems, assisting drivers when certain criteria are met, much like Tesla’s Autopilot system, Motor Trend says.

Software As A Service

The digital revolution will swallow us whole if we let it. 10 years ago, how many people would pay to have a device in their pocket that tracks their every movement every day and shares that data with the government and marketers? If you suggested such a thing, people would think you were ready for a suite at the cuckoo’s nest. Yet, today, people willingly carry such devices and feel compelled to check them every minute or so to make sure they aren’t missing out on something.

As cars become more like computers on wheels, we are finding we don’t actually own them any more. We own the seats, tires, brakes, and motors, but the software that makes them function belongs to the manufacturer. Woe betide the intrepid soul who tries to alter it in any way or make repairs that are not “authorized,” for if the manufacturer frowns on those efforts, it can simply turn off all that lovely software and leave the nominal owner with a pile of inoperable junk.

Manufacturers are in love with the idea of people paying for subscriptions. Some people think autonomous driving is about saving lives. Baloney. It is about companies being able to make money from operating robotaxis. Many years ago in an unguarded moment, a Volvo executive let slip that robotaxis will be a “license to print money.”

General Motors this week told investors it is planning to generate revenue from subscriptions for insurance, OnStar, and other services. Someday, we are going to look back and realize we willingly gave away our ability to own and drive our cars the same way we gave away our right to live without surveillance by governments and marketers. We will go in search of cars that don’t hem us in with end-user agreements and other legal psychobabble, but it will be too late. Our chance to resist will have evaporated.

It’s astonishing what people will put up with in the name of convenience. Life is not worth living without likes on Fakebook or retweets on Twitter. Steer a car ourselves? Oh, the horror! Isn’t there some way we can pay someone to do that for us? Yes, there is. And once we go down that road, we will be paying and paying forever. Manufacturers will be only too happy to pave the highway to digital hell for us — as long as we pay for it with our own money.

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?

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