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The partnerships driving the transportation revolution
When I was young, I asked my grandmother about her earliest memories from growing up in Brooklyn in the 1910s. I’ve never forgotten her answer.
“On Sundays, we would picnic on a grassy hillside in Brooklyn and watch for automobiles to drive by,” she told me.
“How frequently did you spot one?” I asked her.
“Oh, a few cars went by each hour, depending on the day,” she replied.
A typical Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn circa 1918 saw just a few automobiles. It is hard to imagine until you see a photograph like this …
Brooklyn’s transformation from a town into the 3rd largest urban center in America was, in part, due to automobiles.
I was reminded of this conversation with my grandmother a few weeks ago when my family took our first ride in a self-driving vehicle. In some ways it felt like an ordinary Uber ride. And yet, as our Waymo vehicle navigated itself through San Francisco traffic and stopped on its own for pedestrians, I realized this is something entirely different. Self-driving cars will upend how we live, work and travel.
Consider this …
The average American spends nearly 11 hours each week in the car. What will we do with the time we get back when we no longer need to control the car?
Today, nearly 25% of the space in our cities are set aside for parking. How will cities like New York City or New Orleans repurpose that space when cars can park themselves overnight in the suburbs?
Over 5% of America’s workforce drive trucks for a living - what will these workers do when trucks can drive themselves?
Will the transition to autonomous vehicles take 10 more years or closer to 50 years? I don’t know but I am certain that the timeline will be shaped by how different industry players work together - by partnerships.
Partnerships on the road to autonomy
To help understand how partnerships will shape the transition to autonomous vehicles consider a single player - Toyota.
Toyota is at a critical crossroads.
Twenty years ago, Toyota was hailed as an innovator. The Toyota Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle. With its high fuel-efficiency and low-cost, Toyota could not keep up with consumer demand for the Prius.
Today, Toyota remains a global auto leader, but is struggling to adapt to new technology. Consumer focus has shifted towards fully electric vehicles, which Toyota has been slower to embrace.
Can Toyota make the transition to electric and gear-up for the autonomous era simultaneously? Or will Toyota fall behind newer entrants like Tesla and Waymo?
Partnering with suppliers
To compete in this era, Toyota will need to partner closely with software companies who can provide navigation (e.g. Aptiv, Cruise, Waymo, Mobileye), ride-sharing (e.g. Waymo, Cruise, Uber) and in-car entertainment (e.g. Google, Amazon, Spotify).
Software companies that harness artificial intelligence and computer vision will have far more leverage than Toyota’s existing suppliers that manufacture brakes, transmissions and axles.
Toyota’s future will be defined in part by partnerships it forges with software providers. Toyota could stumble like Dell and Compaq, who struggled to respond to Apple ability to integrate of hardware and software. Or Toyota could become like Samsung and HTC, who surpassed RIM and Nokia by partnering with Google Android.
How is power shifting within your industry? What deal structures are you utilizing to incentivize your suppliers to invest in your organization for the long-term?
Partnering with competitors
Fear of change is the biggest threat to a new automotive technology. To grow adoption, industry leaders will need to join forces - including with their competitors. Already, there are several autonomous industry alliances including Alliance for Autonomous Innovation, NAV Alliance, Autonomous Vehicle Industry Alliance.
As an industry leader, Toyota faces tough questions when it comes to risks deciding which industry alliances to join and which to avoid.
Competitors can use an industry alliance to level the industry playing field with Toyota through new regulations or industry standards. But not participating in industry alliances also comes with risk - not having a voice as an industry alliance defines a new set of industry rules.
What criteria do you use to evaluate where to engage with industry associations and alliances? Who in your organization runs point on these relationships?
Partnering with the press
Google unveiled the first self-driving car in 2009, just a year after the great financial crisis. Back then, tech startups offered reporters the chance to write stories that were in rare supply - stories of economic growth and innovation and possibility.
But today, coverage is very different.
Since 2009 media coverage of technology has included Cambridge Analytica, #deleteUber, Theranos, FTX, and so many data breaches.
That may be why 63% of Americans would not ride in an autonomous vehicle if given the opportunity (Pew Research).
To shift that mindset, the transportation industry will need to invest in talented messengers and powerful messages. Making our roads safer and saving drivers time and money is a compelling vision. But convincing reporters that the transportation industry can deliver on that promise will require a sustained focus on building trusted relationships with the press.
How does your partnerships team stay aligned with PR and marketing? How can you help to strengthen that internal partnership to ensure your organization is delivering a clear and consistent message?
Partnering with government
From highway signs (federal) to vehicle permits (state) to rule enforcement (local), our roads are governed a vast collection of government agencies. These agencies hold the keys to our autonomous future. But lawmakers are not incentivized to advance new innovations.
Toyota cannot convince regulators alone. They will need to leverage industry alliances to share in the cost of building support for new regulations. Toyota will also need to cultivate allies within the media to present a balanced narrative to consumers and voters.
What is your organization’s public policy strategy? How do you engage with and help to educate lawmakers and regulators on an ongoing basis?
The lesson for you
You need to think broadly about partnerships.
Most technology companies tend to think of partnerships as accelerators only for sales, marketing or product. In reality, partnerships extend to a wide range of external stakeholders including suppliers, competitors, the press and government regulators. To drive change, you need to think expansively about how functional teams (Product, PR, Marketing, Policy) partner together internally in order to pull off the partnerships externally that will accelerate your growth.