TRANSPORTATION AND LOGISTICS BRIEFING: Delphi reorganizes for digital disruption -- Ford and Lyft team up on self-driving cars -- Mercedes tests drone delivery

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AUTO SUPPLIER DELPHI REBRANDS FOR A DIGITAL FUTURE: Delphi, one of the world’s largest auto suppliers, is rebranding itself and spinning off its engine components business to better position itself for the advent of self-driving cars, Reuters reports.

  • Delphi will rename itself Aptiv, and the company will house its existing car electronics unit as well as its fledgling self-driving car division.
  • The engine and powertrain business, which Delphi announced it would spinoff in May, will be renamed Delphi Technologies.

Delphi leaders said that the split better positions the two companies to react to rapid changes in their respective businesses. As rising demand and stricter fossil fuel regulations drive adoption of electric vehicles in the coming years, Delphi Technologies will need to position itself for the electrification of powertrains. A recent report from financial services firm Cowen & Co. predicted that global electric vehicle penetration will pass 3% in 2020 and then accelerate to 7.5% in 2025.

Meanwhile, Aptiv will compete with a wide range of tech companies, startups, and other auto suppliers to build software and hardware components for connected and autonomous cars. Most major automakers plan to put self-driving cars on the road by 2021 at the latest. Delphi has been developing its own self-driving software for years, and recently partnered with Intel and BMW to jointly accelerate their self-driving efforts. Delphi had previously partnered with MobilEye, an Israeli self-driving hardware startup that was acquired by Intel earlier this year, to put a self-driving system on the market in 2019.

Delphi’s move highlights the threat new automotive technologies pose for traditional auto suppliers. Delphi is purposely moving away from providing traditional car parts for automakers in order to pursue opportunities in connected, electric, and autonomous vehicles. Many traditional car parts are becoming commoditized and the rise of these new technologies will likely accelerate the trend. Automakers will eventually start to compete on the range of their electric engines, bandwidth of their wireless connections, and reliability of their semi-autonomous and autonomous software. Traditional auto body and interior parts will therefore become less valuable, and automakers will shift more of their spending to these new technologies. Delphi’s move repositions the company to take advantage of these coming shifts in the auto market, rather than become a victim of them.

FORD JOINS LYFT’S OPEN SELF-DRIVING PLATFORM:Ford and Lyft have agreed to design software that will eventually allow Ford’s self-driving cars to pick up passengers who request a ride from a self-driving car through the Lyft mobile application. The agreement is similar to GM’s partnership with the ride-hailing firm (minus the investment made in Lyft).

The agreement is a noteworthy development in both companies’ self-driving car strategies.

  • The move indicates Ford is taking a two-pronged approach to autonomous ride-hailing services — a strategy that’s gaining traction in the space.Back in 2015, Ford laid out plans for its own ride-hailing service powered by self-driving cars, and to that end it bought crowd-sourced ride-sharing service Chariot early last year. GM is also experimenting with this idea, as it started testing an autonomous ride-hailing service in San Francisco for employees of its Cruise Automation division. Both Ford and GM seem intent on deploying autonomous cars that can both be utilised by their own ride-hailing services and by Lyft’s. Connecting their self-driving cars to multiple ride-hailing services would allow automakers to provide as many rides as possible with their vehicles to maximise revenues.
  • Meanwhile, adding Ford is a significant accomplishment for Lyft as it seeks to operate an open self-driving car platform.Earlier this year Lyft announced plans to operate an open platform where any automaker could deploy its self-driving cars, and since then its brought on board GM, Jaguar Land Rover, and a number of technology suppliers, such as Waymo and startups and nuTonomy. Ford is just the latest automaker it has brought in to this platform, but it’s a noteworthy one — it’s the second-largest automaker in the US and has a substantial presence in both Europe and Asia, meaning that it could supply its self-driving cars to Lyft in international markets if the ride-hailing firm decides to expand its open platform beyond North America. Moreover, the addition of Ford — which together with GM will likely be some of the first companies to get self-driving technologies ready for the market — could allow Lyft to deploy self-driving cars en masse before rival Uber.

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MERCEDES-BENZ DRONE TEST SHOWS NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR AUTOMAKERS: Mercedes-Benz and California-based drone manufacturer Matternet began a three-week pilot program in Zurich that uses drones to help complete same-day deliveries, according to Bloomberg. The drones are helping to deliver coffee grounds from Black and Blaze Coffee Roasting Co., a local coffee company.

The drones aren’t completing last-mile deliveries — instead, they’re serving as a bridge to the last-mile that’s completed by the Mercedes vans. Customers can place an order from Black and Blaze on Siroop, a Swiss online marketplace. From there, Black and Blaze employees place the order on Matternet drones, which land on top of the Mercedes-Benz vans parked at four locations around the city, which then deliver the coffee orders to customers’ homes. The vans are specifically designed for drones to land on them, and were showed off by Mercedes-Benz at CES earlier this year.

The program is one of the first drone delivery tests in an urban setting — a significant step in progressing towards commercial drone delivery services. Most drone delivery tests have taken place in rural or suburban settings, since the airspace is less crowded and there’s less risk of a crash or some other harmful event. Amazon has been testing its Prime Air drone delivery service in the English countryside since late last year. But tests like this one show that drones’ navigation capabilities are becoming advanced enough to navigate urban areas.

The tests show how automakers are using new technologies to overcome the threat of lower vehicle ownership. While most automakers are exploring mobility services like car-sharing and ride-hailing, a handful — including Mercedes and Ford — want their vehicles to help support forthcoming drone delivery services. Automakers have long supplied delivery vehicles to traditional logistics firms, but new automation technologies like drones and self-driving cars could enable automakers to launch their own delivery services. In fact, Mercedes plans to invest $US589 million in the coming years to help reduce delivery times around the globe. If this big bet proves successful, it could help the German automaker overcome this threat of lower vehicle sales.

In other news…

  • Two US Senators announced they have reached a bipartisan agreement on new legislation governing self-driving cars. Early reports suggest that the Senate legislation will closely mirror the bill recently passed by the House, which prohibited states from banning self-driving cars. The bill does not include language that would govern self-driving trucks, which were not covered in the House bill either. The Senate legislation will be voted on by the Senate Commerce Committee on October 4, and, if passed, will then move on to a full Senate vote. If the bill becomes law, it would greatly increase the number of self-driving cars that automakers could put on public road for tests.
  • DHL Supply Chain President of Transportation Jim Monkmeyer hinted that the company may launch its Saloodo freight marketplace in the US later this year in partnership with four existing customers, according to an interview with Supply Chain Dive. DHL launched the service back in January to stay ahead of digital supply chain services like Uber Freight. Monkmeyer’s comments came as he elaborated on the company’s rebranding of its Exel Freight Connect service as the DHL Transport Brokerage, part of an ongoing rebranding effort around Exel’s freight services in North America.
  • Amazon announced that all 2018 BMW and Mini models available in Germany, the UK, and the US will include Alexa voice assistant integration beginning in the middle of next year, according to Engadget. The automaker joins Ford in building the popular voice assistant into some of its vehicles. Voice assistants are a natural interface for in-car services, and getting ahead of this trend could give BMW a leg up on other automakers that haven’t yet integrated the voice assistant into their vehicle lineups.
  • Toyota’s Research Institute in Silicon Valley showcased its latest self-driving test model, according to The Verge. The research division is using the model to test two different self-driving systems. The first, called Chauffeur, is being developed to eventually provide a fully autonomous system that can replace a driver. The second, called Guardian, is meant to be an advanced driver assist system somewhat similar to Tesla’s Autopilot. It’s also noteworthy that the automaker is using LiDAR sensors from Luminar — a five-year old startup — instead of from market leading LiDAR sensor manufacturers like Velodyne or Quanergy.

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