CES 2016

How the Self-Driving Car Is Turning Detroit and Silicon Valley Into BFFs

GM-Lyft deal marks shift in competition

Auto brands and tech companies are working together. Getty Images

General Motors today revealed that it's investing $500 million in the car-service app Lyft in a measure that is designed to empower them to beat their competitors to the self-driving future. One of the more interesting nuggets in the announcement is that the two companies plan to release a fleet of rentals that allow virtually any licensed individual to be a Lyft driver for a day. 

The move comes on the heels of Ford and Google reportedly partnering to boost their autonomous-vehicle ambitions. So Detroit and Silicon Valley—two commercial hubs that have been seen as directly competing to profit off of the car of the future—are suddenly hitching wagons like never before.

So we asked industry players about what it means, and here is what four marketers had to say:

"It's a good thing," said Matt Rednor CEO of Decoded Advertising. "Most of the best and brightest talent resides in tech companies now, and I'd trust them to solve big world problems over established brands. The driverless car comes down to building an AI [artificial intelligence] robot. Who would you trust to build it better: Google or Ford?"

"The Lyft deal is interesting for GM in particular," contended Jason Harrison, global CEO of Gain Theory. "If the world of auto transportation is moving toward a future where people increasingly use on-demand ride services, perhaps enabled by an endless fleet of driverless cars, GM wants to be in the pole position of manufacturing those cars, particularly if that rise in demand for ride services comes at the expense of individuals owning their own cars."

Jill Grozalsky, strategy director at Verndale, a marketing-technology company, stated, "From a brand perspective, it's smart that both GM and Ford are being proactive when it comes to technology as it will ensure they stay relevant as technology continues to advance. We saw it with the shift from print to digital media, where newspapers and magazines that weren't proactive or didn't take kindly to the use of the Internet for news consumption were left in the dust."

"What's interesting about these two industries coming together is that the automotive industry follows a model of building, testing and releasing a product in a slow and steady fashion that is intended to be minimally revised for years," said Melissa Tait, svp of project management and technology at digital agency Primacy. "Tech innovation is all about rapid development, rapid releases, data analysis and real-time iterative enhancements. [By] partnering, the two industries will enable the tech firms like Apple to get some insight on manufacturing and quality control and the auto firms to learn how to leverage connectivity and software technology to be more nimble and innovative."  

In conclusion, marketers seem to agree that Detroit and Silicon Valley generally need each other to make the self-driving car go. It's not going to be easy to convince consumers they are dependable.

"Remember Johnny Cab from Total Recall?" quipped Harrison from Gain Theory, referring to the scene in the Arnold Schwarzenegger futuristic flick where his Total Recall character, Douglas Quaid, rips the robot driver from the car due to frustrations about its voice-recognition software. 

Tune in tomorrow for our Consumer Electronics Show preview, which details what marketers need to know about cars as the next must-have mobile device.

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