The battle to bring car ride-sharing, electric vehicle support and autonomy to the world will be fought a city at a time.
Cities have the local knowledge, theyre the landlords for the environment, said Peter Kosak, GMs executive director of urban mobility programs.
Kosak is at South by Southwest in Austin, TX, to convince almost two-dozen U.S. mayors to adopt GMs 1-year-old Maven ride-sharing service. The mayors of 18 cities, a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, come to SXSW to participate in the government track and learn about emerging technologies that might impact their cities.
Maven has been pitching them for two years on the concept of cars that can sit in town parking lots, ready for use by anyone who has the Maven app, which allows them to start the car remotely, set climate preferences, unlock it and drive away.
The system leverages GMs OnStar, an in-car concierge system that has grown from a crash alert system to something that provides remote start, turn-by-turn-navigation, on-demand diagnostics and more. Maven, though, is a more comprehensive vision of car intelligence and mobility. It integrates Apple Car or Android Auto, putting, for example, Siris voice in the car.
The year-old ride-sharing program has, according to Kosak, seen 30,000 reservations and 90 million miles driven in the United States.
Its not a curiosity or pilot, weve scaled, he said.
Plus, as part of the Maven City, a sharing system designed to serve ride-sharing drivers (Lyft, Uber), GM is now deploying what may be its most innovative car (at least one that’s not a concept), the electric-only Chevy Bolt. Granted, its a small deployment: 25 vehicles in San Francisco. Kosak said none of the cars, which have a 240-mile range per charge, have been returned and are seeing more miles driven than their shared gas vehicles.
In the process, GM is also picking up some interesting telemetry, like how far these ride-sharing drivers travel from charging stations and how long they will continue to drive the electric vehicles before returning for a charge (its like drivers testing how long they can drive a gas car with the Refill Tank light on).
GM is talking to Los Angeles, New York City and other cities about launching similar programs.
Were not seeing that any cities feel like its going to be impossible to adopt or any unsolvable impediments to integration for these technologies, said Kosak. However, as ride-sharing programs, electric vehicle use and autonomous vehicles (admittedly somewhat further out on the horizon) expand, there are some unintended consequences cities may face.
Kosak told me the concerns hes heard are worries about lost revenues generated from multiple cars needing parking permits and lost revenues from fuel taxes and even reduced moving violation tickets from rule-following self-driving cars.
Not unsolvable problems, but it is a generational shift for towns and, maybe more importantly, the auto industry.
After 115 years of design, build, sell, one-on-one relationship with customers, now we talk about vehicle sharing systems in residential communities, said Kosak.
However, the political weather has changed since GM pitched a similar mayoral delegation last year.
Back then, the White House was occupied by an administration that openly embraced technology, innovation and change. Things are, now, different.
Kosak acknowledged the Trump administrations focus on national competitiveness, productivity and economic strength.
In so far as these kind of technologies like autonomous vehicles and systems will unlock huge human value, then, obviously, the federal government has an interest in feeding local players in fostering projects, said Kosak.
However, when reminded of President Trumps seeming allergy to the words technology and innovation, Kosak offered a different, sharper response.
If this administration is going to achieve half of its stated goals, it has to focus on technology. If it hasnt yet or talked about it yet, it has to. Technology is going to play an essential role in any competitive advantage that this or any other country has in the foreseeable future.
Sounds about right, but for now, with or without federal support, it appears cities are in the drivers seat, with GM and other car companies like it manning the controls.
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