Among top global automotive groups, fifth-largest Hyundai Motor (HYMLF) is one of the last to publicly delineate a strategy for mastering autonomous or driverless technology for its vehicles. That could be about to change.
In an interview with Bloomberg in Seoul, Hyundai president Jeong Jin Haeng hinted that Hyundai and Alphabet's (GOOG) - Get Report Google unit may discuss expanding partnerships to gain expertise so the carmaker can remain competitive, especially in information technology.
Until now, Hyundai has avoided partnerships, such as ones to design and build electric cars, though the automaker has been among the most aggressive to offer Apple Car Play and Google's Android Auto in its infotainment systems.
A former Samsung executive, Hwang Seung Ho, who is now Hyundai's executive vice president for information technology, has said publicly that the company's go-it-alone penchant should give way to more partnerships with Silicon Valley firms and others to close the competitive gap with other automakers.
Earlier this week, Hyundai officials in British Columbia sidestepped questions at the press launch of its new Genesis brand about how soon or whether the cars will offer driverless technology. The new Genesis G90 large sedan, about to arrive at U.S. dealerships, does feature an array of advanced safety devices that rely on sensors and software integration.
"Hyundai is lagging behind the competition to develop autonomous vehicles," Ko Tae Bong, senior auto analyst at Hi Investment & Securities, told Bloomberg. "It's not a choice but a critical prerequisite for Hyundai to cooperate with IT companies, such as Google, to survive in the near future."
Although global automakers possess deep knowledge of computing, software and robotics, which have long been used in factories and in vehicles for infotainment, lighting and engine control, they lack specific expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence and 3D mapping used in driverless prototypes. To fill in the gaps, automakers have been forging partnerships and buying stakes in startups in Silicon Valley, as well as in high-tech hotbeds such as Israel.
The public comment from a Hyundai executive comes a day after Ford Motor (F) - Get Report publicly announced in Palo Alto, Calif., that it will offer driverless vehicles for commercial applications by 2021, spelling out partnerships and deals Ford has concluded to gain critical technology. Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (FCAU) - Get Report announced last May that they were building driverless minivans together for research.
A former top Hyundai executive in the U.S., John Krafcik, now supervises Google's driverless car project.
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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.