Padmasree Warrior, CEO and chief development officer of NextEV USA, kicked off day two of the LA Auto Show’s Automobility LA with a powerful perspective on the current state of the automotive industry. She rattled off the usual litany of congestion, highway fatalities, emissions and changing usage and ownership models before defining NextEV’s vision of driving to be built around the car as a safe, green companion.
Warrior’s voice is an important one as the only female CEO in the automotive industry other than Mary Barra at General Motors and for her headline-grabbing move from chief technology officer of Cisco to NextEV. Her vision of automotive architecture is a comprehensive reimagining of the automotive hardware and software stack to focus on safety, connectivity gateway, firewall and Ethernet-based network technology.
She noted that consumers are losing minutes, hours, weeks and years of their lives stuck in traffic while car makers offer nothing more than buttons, gadgets and displays. She said innovation must be focused on safety and autonomy in order to give back time to consumers to restore the attractiveness of the car as an object of aspiration.
Through her comments, Warrior highlighted the fact that Apple and Alphabet, with their CarPlay and Android Auto integrations, have commoditized in-vehicle infotainment. The unintended consequence is that infotainment is no longer essential or differentiating. What is important is that the car delivers a safe operating environment acting as a companion to the owner/driver.
The car should seamlessly detect and provide for the needs and desires of the occupants with an emphasis on avoiding harm and distraction. The safety first message is at odds with the bells and whistles obsession of auto makers and their suppliers. The de-emphasis of infotainment was a powerful counter-argument to the news item that started the week of the show early Monday morning – Samsung’s acquisition of Harman International, the number two supplier by revenue – according to Strategy Analytics estimates – of automotive infotainment systems.
With her comments at Automobility Warrior nearly singlehandedly let the air out of the tires of financial handicappers who hailed the Samsung acquisition – with some, including commentator Jim Kramer, asserting that Apple missed an opportunity. For Warrior, as she concluded her presentation, “It’s not about driving. It’s about being.”
It’s a compelling statement that only heightens that anticipation of what NextEV may have in store. It’s challenging to bring a new vision to a 125-year-old industry served by dozens of car makers, but Warrior appears to have done just that.
Delivering on that vision will be Warrior’s next challenge. Fellow automotive EV startup Faraday Future kicked off its own ambitious program with a snazzy supercar announced at CES 2016 along with plans for a billion-dollar factory across town from Tesla Motors’ own gigafactory. We are still waiting for the full Faraday vision to unfold – and now we await NextEV.
But the message was clear and important in the wake of the Samsung-Harman hookup. We are seeing the end of infotainment as we know it. Consumers are looking for a safe, green companion, according to Warrior. Buckle up.