Everybody is helping everybody in the global automobile industry lately to crack driverless technology as costs increase, deadlines draw nearer and the risk of losing the race to a non-automotive company looks like an existential risk.
The latest company to join a pan-automotive alliance is Continental AG (CTTAY) , the German maker of tires and a wide array of automotive componentry that has been developing driverless and autonomous technology on its own. Continental said it is joining BMW AG, Mobileye NV (MBLY) and Intel Corp. (INTC) - Get Report , which earlier agreed to join forces. Delphi Automotive PLC (DLPH) - Get Report also belongs to the alliance.
Continental said it will help commercialize self-driving systems and serve as "integrator" of hardware, software and data -- the same role that Delphi intends to fulfill, though neither company explained exactly how this will work. BMW and other automakers said they intend to offer a commercially available driverless car by 2021, though the technical hurdles haven't yet been overcome.
"We can meet the steep demands in autonomous driving through an industry-wide collaboration more comprehensively, rapidly and at lower costs than by going alone," said Elmar Degenhart, CEO of Continental, in an emailed statement to Reuters.
Although automakers and automotive parts suppliers are vigorously competitive among themselves for sales to consumers and to introduce new features and technology, they have never faced a direct challenge from the likes of Uber Technologies Inc., Chinese ride-hailing Didi Chuxing, Waymo from Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) - Get Report Google division or Apple Inc. (AAPL) - Get Report , whose CEO has tacitly acknowledged that the company is pursuing driverless.
If any of the non-automotive companies succeed first in creating a practical off-the-shelf driverless system that could be equipped in any vehicle, they could force automakers into the role of suppliers of vehicles to them and become the sellers or operators of driverless technology to end users, giving them greater access to the revenue and profit derived from advanced mobility systems.
Most of the driverless partnerships in the auto industry are non-exclusive, meaning that companies like Continental are free to pursue customers and develop technology on their own while they are working with an automaker like BMW, as well as with rival suppliers like Delphi. But non-exclusive relationships raise the possibility that partners or allies may be withholding access to their most important intellectual property or innovations.
Waymo has partnered with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (FCAU) - Get Report to manufacture minivans equipped with Waymo driverless technology. But it is unclear how much FCA can learn about driverless tech from the relationship. Likewise, Uber has bought vehicles from Volvo, though Volvo maintains a driverless development alliance with Swedish supplier Autoliv Inc.
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Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.