The race to self-driving car tech isn't over, but the finish line just got a lot closer. This week, Delphi Automotive (NYSE:DLPH) and Mobileye (NASDAQOTH:MBBYF) announced that they were teaming up to build purchase-per-unit self-driving car software that could be available as early as 2019.
In this clip from the Industry Focus podcast, host Sean O'Reilly and Fool contributor John Rosevear explain some background on these two companies, then take a look at what the partnership could mean for automakers across the board -- from companies like General Motors (NYSE:GM) that have been researching their own self-driving tech, to smaller and more debt-laden companies that haven't had a chance.
A full transcript follows the video.
This podcast was recorded on Aug. 25, 2016.
Sean O'Reilly: Speaking of things being on fire, we're talking about the prospects of driverless car technology emerging, and I wanted to get you in here because this is a big deal. We got news this week out of Delphi and Mobileye. They're teaming up and basically creating the nuts and bolts of what an automaker would need to make a driverless car. My immediate reaction was that this is a big deal, and right before we went on air, you confirmed that for me, so thank you. But I'm super-anxious to get your thoughts on this. So, go ahead, go over the deal first so we can talk about the broader ramifications.
John Rosevear: We know that a bunch of automakers are working on developing fully automated, self-driving cars -- don't have to touch the steering wheel, those kinds of things. Not all automakers are doing it. Delphi Automotive is a big auto industry supplier. They were spun out of GM years ago. They work with lots of automakers all over the world.
O'Reilly: Weren't they bankrupt at some point?
Rosevear: They're quite healthy now. And they've been working at self-driving for years. Mobileye is a very interesting Israeli company that basically makes the computer brains for assisted driving systems of all kinds. They have a couple of specialties. One is taking the input from cameras and turning it into information that your car can recognize. But they're also very good at what we call deep learning, machine learning, where the computer learns over time as it accumulates more information.
These two companies have worked together for years, and they came out on Tuesday and said, "We're going to have a full-blown SAE level four or five self-driving system that will be available to just about any automaker that wants it starting in 2019."
O'Reilly: My jaw hit the floor when I saw that. I actually got a push notification from, I think it was Bloomberg or Wall Street Journal. And I was like, "Oh my gosh, is Elon Musk going to lose his mind now?"
Rosevear: Well, I mean, Tesla is going to go their own way. There are other companies doing this. General Motors is deep into their research. Ford is already well along on their research. Mercedes is along.
First off, Mobileye says they work with 27 different automakers all over the world, including little companies...
O'Reilly: How many are there?
Rosevear: ...Chinese automakers that we don't know very well and so forth. These companies will all have access to this technology starting in 2019. Everybody will be able to incorporate it into their vehicles and offer it. So, yeah, in that sense, it's a huge deal. We talk about the race to self-driving cars. It's not over, but it might have become irrelevant, was my first reaction to this.
O'Reilly: My question is, what do you think the prospects are? What's their play here? Do they want to be the go-to guys if you want to drop a driverless brain into your Ford Fusion? What's their play here?
Rosevear: Mobileye already sells components to just about everybody. GM does business with Mobileye, Tesla has done business with Mobileye -- although they're discontinuing that shortly because Mobileye isn't happy with what Tesla has done, but that's another story. But most automakers do business with Mobileye in things that are moving toward self-driving -- adaptive cruise control, lane-changing systems, things like that. So, they're already customers.
What these guys are saying now is, "We'll have a whole turnkey solution for you if you have chosen not to develop your own internal self-driving thing. We will have something for you that you can add for a few thousand dollars a car starting in 2019." For GM, it's like, "OK, we might benefit from the expertise that comes out of this as they develop it." But think about a company like Fiat Chrysler, which has more debt than cash, which is scrambling to remake its product line all over the world, and which frankly has not had the bandwidth to work on self-driving cars. They can just buy this. And then they're in the game.
O'Reilly: It seems to me like that in itself has two ways you can look at it. Did GM waste all that time and money over the years developing their own driverless stuff? And the same would apply to Ford. Because, this is going to be just as good as they did, and therefore they can just buy it for a few thousand dollars per car and just drop it in Fiat Chrysler's. Or, is GM's in-house stuff still going to be a little bit better?
Rosevear: It will be better from GM's perspective, because they'll make more money on it. If they can offer it as an option for the same price, they'd have to resell the Delphi Mobileye solution, there's a bigger margin on that. But, more to the point, they can also integrate it more deeply into their systems. GM has the Chevy Bolt coming. They all talk about that as a platform for things like self-driving, because they've set it up so they can build this stuff right into the car's computers...
O'Reilly: Yeah, what frame did they use for the Bolt?
Rosevear: It's mostly new from scratch. They used some stuff from the Chevy Sonic, the suspension parts and stuff. But it's mostly new from scratch.
O'Reilly: So, what does this mean for the industry at large?
Rosevear: It means everybody's going to have this stuff, simply put. At least, have access to it. It doesn't mean that every car in the world is going to be self-driving in 2020. It's going to be a long time before every car is self-driving. But it does mean that everybody can offer this stuff as it starts to make sense, as consumers start to demand it, as there starts to be business cases for it over the next decade, basically.