By on September 24, 2014

Silicon Valley around San Jose

As companies like Google, Tesla and Uber seek to reshape the auto industry in their own ways, more automakers and suppliers are beating a path toward Silicon Valley and the Center for Automotive Research Stanford to help adapt to the new reality.

Ward’s Auto recently sat down with CARS director Sven Beiker, who once worked for BMW as one of the first industry observers sent to report on developments in Silicon Valley’s growing tech culture. From there, he relocated to Detroit for a couple of years to participate in a hybrid project with General Motors and DaimlerChrysler before joining Stanford in 2008.

Regarding his work since then, Beiker states that unlike other automotive industry think tanks that receive funding from federal grants, CARS relies on private funding from more than two dozen sustaining supporters, including Ford, Toyota, Delphi and Panasonic. Further, the supporters develop potential technologies with the center, with access to the university’s Dynamic Design, Interactive Media and Stanford AI Lab to help develop their ideas.

Stanford itself also has been pushing development of automotive technology, such as autonomous vehicles — a long-term project dating back to the first U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored DARPA Challenge in 2005 — electric-vehicle charging and advance batteries, and future business models for the industry as a whole.

When asked if Silicon Valley’s cadre of venture capitalists wanted to invest in a new car company, Beiker stated they were more interested in the next Uber than the next Tesla, going so far as to claim the VCs likely don’t want their home to become a new automotive industry mecca. That may be easier said than hoped, as both automakers and suppliers establish a presence alongside the game-changers in the valley.

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15 Comments on “Future Of Auto Industry Linked To Silicon Valley...”

  • avatar

    re: “… going so far as to claim the VCs likely don’t want their home to become a new automotive industry mecca …”

    I’ve lived and worked–in tech–in the SV for over 31 years (i.e. I wasn’t “sent to report on developments in Silicon Valley’s growing tech culture,” like a lunar probe; I’ve lived it full-time). While not a VC insider, I’ve observed the industry and its players. The above statement implies the VCs are interested in guiding the valley towards the future they want to see, and will only invest in movements they see leading to that end. That is not consistent with what I’ve observed–the VCs will invest in anything they believe they can profit from, and if they see money in investing in anything related to automobiles they most surely will.

    If the VCs aren’t interested in investing in things automotive, it’s because they tend to invest in things they know well (social networking, etc.). They generally don’t know cars beyond knowing they have to drive an imported luxury car.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    Gee, and all this time I thought that folks wanted good cars. Silly me, I’m converted now that I see that they want to bring the blue screen of death to their fugly governmentmobile.

  • avatar

    I tried to think of something to say about all this tech, but I’m just not all that excited about it and even less so in my car. Of course this comes from a guy who still has a flip phone.

  • avatar

    Silicon valley wants to turn cars into plastic toys. Yes they will play a role in future cars but it will be a minor one. The people in this industry are too young to understand realities of the world.The state of California itself (so called clean state) still uses coal for 8% of their electricity ,and 44% natural gas.The benefits of some of these new technologies are exaggerated by wall street.

    • 0 avatar

      “Yes they will play a role in future cars but it will be a minor one.” Forgive me, but that statement leaves me puzzled.

      While I agree with your statement, “The people in this industry are too young to understand realities of the world.”, it certainly appears to me that these people are reshaping the world to fit their own idea of the future; in electronics, tech toys, navigation, and yes, even automobiles, often blurring the lines between home, office and car.

      What has emerged IMO is some bastardized version of a rolling transportation platform that serves all facets of our lives, stationary or on the go, with Internet Access for Social Media to boot.

    • 0 avatar

      Applying some aspects silicon valley-style management to heavy industry could be interesting.

      I assume that’s what Tesla is doing, and the results are interesting.

  • avatar

    Yawn. Silicon Valley. Cars. Sure.


    Google, now that does interest me. They have so much loot they are applying the scattershot approach to autonomous vehicle systems. Buy up all the companies in the field and something is bound to pan out. Yup, that’s advanced research by monopoly.

    Every app on my Android phone wants access to my address book, etc. None of their business, but of course, unless you accept, you don’t get to use the app. Google I personally don’t trust at all.

  • avatar

    Detroit *was* the original Silicon Valley. Well, Iron Valley.

    The Bay Area would be wise to heed some of its lessons.

  • avatar

    No, VCs exist to make money. They will invest in anything that can convince them of a quick 5-year ROI. Many of those in the Silicon Valley do focus on certain industries, but that’s not to say they aren’t open to other things that can feed their wallets.

    As an engineer on the borderline of “tech” (whatever the [email protected] that means) and “traditional” industries, I welcome innovations that truly add value to society. The latest chat, game or automatic picture posting mobile app is just entertainment feeding entertainment, which I don’t see as contributing to the advancement of mankind. That fluffy bubble will come and go, as it has always done in various forms.

    Transportation will always be vital to mankind, as will most other “traditional” industries. The US would do well to innovate and grow its home manufacturing and transportation industries.

    Many Silicon Valley babies don’t realise how small the “tech” industry is with respect to our world, but the rest of the world can also better appreciate some of the amazing innovations that have come out of this place. Tesla can bring manufacturing back to the San Francisco area, but it’s just a small step for what still is a boutique car company at this point.

  • avatar

    Is that a photo of SV or an Argentinian slum surrounding an oil spill?

    • 0 avatar

      Argentina and slum, despite all the problems, are not really words that go naturally together. If you had said Brazilian or Peruvian slum, than that would’ve been more appropriate, :)….

    • 0 avatar

      Reg. “Is that a photo of SV or an Argentinian slum surrounding an oil spill??

      Pretty obviously it shows the South Bay area and north all the way to Marin, with the ‘valley’ to the south and east/right, and to the west, the Pacific ocean.

      If your geographically challenged, the south would be the bottom of the pic, the north the top, and east & west, right & left respectively.

      Meteorological we also see clouds in the valley and along the coast.

      Geologically we see a seismic geologic fault indicated by the open expanse of water in the middle of the pic running from south to north.

      Surrounding the ‘spill’ are all the Bay communities, including San Francisco and Oakland.

      Sociologically we have the typical stew of humanity with a western American urban bent with little to no sense of community and completely devoid of any definable culture except the temporaneous pseudo micro communities arbitrarily contrived for and by the rich, tech, and intellectual elite classes which are often one and the same. The exception being the ethnic communities which have a lasting perennial cultural vitality.

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