Convergence is happening in the automobile business. Today’s car are using more computer and digital technology and that trend is accelerating. Last week, Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler, found himself in sunny California to visit with Tesla’s Elon Musk and Apple’s Tim Cook. He also spent 45 minutes testing out Google’s self driving car.
Marchionne is well known for promoting consolidation among automakers. It costs a lot of money to design cars that will comply with the welter of laws and regulations car makers have to deal with around the world. He thinks it would make good economic sense to have fewer car companies. That way, they could each spend more time concentrating on building cars and less time figuring out how to comply with those laws and regulations.
It is well known that Apple and Google are interested in getting into the automobile business in one way or another. Google is a pioneer when it comes to self driving cars and Apple is reportedly hiring people away from Tesla to work on its own car project. Did the Fiat chief talk about a collaboration with Apple or Google during his conversations? If he did, he’s not saying anything publicly.
He did have this to say about Elon Musk: “I’m incredibly impressed with what that kid has done.” His comments about Tim Cook were more guarded. “He’s interested in Apple’s intervention in the car. That’s his role.” Indeed, Apple is believed to be developing its own electric self-driving car. It has stated publicly that it wants to integrate its core iOS software into cars with its CarPlay system. That technology would allow drivers to access information on their iPhones without taking their hands off the streering wheel, according to Reuters.
Today, Tesla represents the pinnacle of digital and automotive integration, with its 17″ touchscreen dominating the interior and its ability to update each car’s programming wirelessly at any time. Will Fiat and Chrysler try to emulate Tesla? Or will the Apple car have a Fiat logo on the trunk lid when it appears? The future of the automobile is entering a phase of enormous change. It will be fun to watch this convergence of sheet metal and digital technology play out.