Waymo Misses the Boat… Wayless?

Waymo Misses the Boat… Wayless?
by Roger C. Lanctot on 12-14-2016 at 4:00 pm

 The big news in the world of transportation today is Alphabet’s spinoff of its automated driving business into a business unit called Waymo. The effort is positioned as Alphabet’s formal attempt to commercialize automated driving technology.

The project has been greeted with much fanfare and rumors of a late 2017 introduction of a ridesharing service built around Chrysler Pacifica crossovers from FCA. As if on cue, car segment CEO Richard Krafcik commented cryptically: “We are not in the business of making better cars. We are in the business of making better drivers.”

All of this information suggests that Alphabet still lacks a clue as to how to make its way into the market. The company is still pursuing automated driving as an end in itself as if that’s all that’s necessary. Alphabet seems to be completely missing the point that automated vehicles are best suited for building transportation networks and, as such, it is optimizing the performance of that network which will determine success.

The clever trick of automating driving is not only well understood at lower speeds or in defined or limited use areas, it has been and is being mastered by more than 19 organizations with automated bus bots across the world. Meanwhile every outfit from tiny startups and graduate students to huge, VC-funded behemoths such as Uber are taking on the challenge with hopes of expanding automated vehicle-based public transportation and eliminating drivers in the process.

What most of these organizations have grasped early on that it’s not the driving, it’s the network. The goal is to eliminate drivers altogether and disrupt transportation.

BMW partner RideCell grasped this early on and has enabled more than a dozen car and ride sharing systems around the world. Understanding the functioning of those networks and how to expand their commercial scope is the essential missing ingredient that will allow car makers to transition their business models from B2B-centric – built around dealers – to B2C-centric – built around offering transportation services directly to consumers.

The rumored FCA deal raises more questions than it answers especially from the standpoint of what brand will be on the service and who is going to create and manage the network? Is Waymo simply building self-driving car algorithms? That field has become pretty crowded and automated vehicles on public and private roads are multiplying.

Alphabet’s rumored plans with FCA will put the initiative in direct competition with Ford’s Chariot service based on human operated Ford Transit Connect vans. But Ford has its own ambitious plans for automating driving within four years. Hard to predict which company will win that race, but I give the advantage to Ford with the early lead in developing the customer-facing elements and the network first via its Chariot acquisition.

Alphabet needs to get out of the press release business and into the proof of concept business. The Local Motors and Navya’s of the world have beet Alphabet out of the blocks and Waymo looks like a sad sorry effort at grabbing headlines with vaporware.

There are multiple and multiplying open source automated driving development platforms and suppliers with development kits. Alphabet’s talking a good game regarding commercial vehicle deployments and ride sharing partnerships with Waymo, but the company has lost the luster of market leadership.

And at this point in time, Waymo looks like Wayles.