BMW’s vision about self-driving cars, the connected car, the future of car ownership and new business models

Picture credit: TechCrunch

During a conversation with BMW at MWC 2017, Frederic Lardinois from TechCrunch touched upon quite a few topics, ranging from self-driving cars, to the future of car ownership and the new business models that in-car technology enables.

Dieter May, BMW’s senior vice president of Digital Services and Business Models said for instance that “We offer [Apple’s] CarPlay as an option but not Android Auto.”

He also said that. “We believe the changes that are coming to the inside of the car and the user experience — like self-driving cars — you have to control the customer interface. That’s part of the brand experience and for that, I don’t want to have an Android screen and I especially want to be able to deeply integrate these systems.”

Dieter May also said during the conversation that he expects that the car of the future ,especially self-driving autonomous cars, will offer far more personalization options, which in turn will enable new business models, too.

“If you have six screens in the car, you also get gesture control, voice control with a personal assistant, etc.,” May said. “You need to have control over that user experience — maybe you can get away with it if you’re a ‘mass producer,’ but not in the premium segment.”

According to Frederic Lardinois, BMW is focusing on A4A (Apps for Automotive) instead of Android Auto (and to some degree, CarPlay).

A4A is part of the company’s ConnectedDrive platform.

A4A allows apps to integrate deeply and safely with the car and because it provides a stable developer interface, it allows the company to innovate faster, according to May. That’s mostly because it allows his group to work on its part of the in-car technology stack without having to stick to the slower innovation cycle that dominates the actual hardware part of the car business.

One area where BMW is excited about working with third parties is personal assistants. The company already showed off prototype integrations with Amazon’s Alexa and Cortana.

“We were the first car manufacturer who launched this at scale with Amazon because we were able to easily integrate it with our cloud platform,” May explained when Frederic Lardinois asked him about BMW’s work with Alexa in the car. He also acknowledged, though, that BMW — just like any other car manufacturer — has a lot of work left to do. “I believe this is a unique opportunity to position ourselves against the existing app ecosystems. It gives us a new opportunity because you’re not so dependent on them but new ecosystems are also on the rise. […] But if you’re sitting in a 7-Series BMW, you don’t want your customers to have to say ‘Hey Alexa, roll up the windows. And that’s all about the brand, of course.”

In May’s view, all of the assistants have different strengths.

May has some interesting ideas about new business models, too, especially now that BMW — like other car manufacturers — is focusing on extending its relationship with its customers.

What May is thinking about is selling cars that already feature all the hardware options but then give the customers the option to buy access to extra features, like a heated car seat or an extra 50 horsepower for that road trip through the Alps.

May also said that self-driving cars will change how people think about cars and car ownership.

According to Frederic Lardinois, May noted that the BMW of the future may measure its success not by how many cars it sells but how many miles per month people drive its cars.

“It’s a really exciting industry right now. The convergence of car and internet technologies, artificial intelligence, autonomous driving — they are all coming together,” said May.

“That’s a core industry for Europe and Germany. That opens up plenty of opportunities but also risks.”

To compete, BMW hired hundreds of people — but not in Silicon Valley, because May doesn’t believe it can compete with Google and the other internet companies for talent there.

“These are 24-year-olds who want to work somewhere for two years as a short gig and then move on. Those are not the people we need — and I can’t exactly promise them that we’ll have a massive IPO that’ll make them millions, either.”