Bandwagon Effect for Self-Driving Cars; Have you Hopped on Yet?

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By Dr. Lance B. Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

Have you hopped onto the bandwagon for self-driving cars? If not, maybe you ought to think about doing so. The FOMO (fear of missing out) alone should be enough to get you motivated to jump in.

Some people say that the self-driving car bandwagon is just a fad. According to the fad theory, once the self-driving car turns out to be a dud, meaning that no such thing is feasible, everyone will be upset, and then everyone will move onto the next big thing. Under this hypothesis, those that made investments into self-driving cars (or the making of self-driving cars) are going to have lost their shirts. It will be like the so-called Internet bubble that burst and left a lot of stockholders bereft of profits.

There are those that say the opposite, namely that the self-driving car is the next miracle to save mankind. It will herald incredible changes in societal norms, in economies, in lives. Having a car, or at least having access to a car, will now become within the grasp of all people, rich or poor, civilized or uncivilized. The self-driving car will change what we do, when we do it, how we live, and otherwise be nearly as big as the invention of fire.

Which is it?

Well, whichever way the self-driving car ends-up, one thing for sure is that right now it still has its allure at top peak. Even if you think that this is merely the currently most hyped tech item on the hype curve, keep in mind that it is still indeed being touted. Whether you sincerely believe in self-driving cars or not, there are those that are finding ways to at least ride the curve up, and then trying to make sure they don’t get hurt if the curve then falls downward.

There’s the false positive, namely the false belief that self-driving cars are going to do well and so thereby be supportive of self-driving cars. That’s pretty much a somewhat safe bet, if you hedge your bets.

There’s the false negative, namely the false believe that self-driving cars are going to tank, and so either ignore them or even campaign against them. This is a somewhat risky bet, since no one usually likes doomsayers (they just seem to be depressing), and also if the naysayers are wrong then they miss out on the upside. As an example, I’ve known many that had an opportunity to invest in Apple during the early days, and at the time these naysayers were insistent that Apple wasn’t going anywhere. Today, they look out their window of their townhouse apartment and wish they were living on a remote island with their own mansion, which they could have had if they had put their money into Apple stock in the early days.

Now, there are some situations where you’d be kind of foolish not to get onto the self-driving car bandwagon, particularly if you could use it to your advantage. I’ll use as a case in point the circumstance of the former CEO of Ford, Mark Fields, whom seemed to have gotten hung by his rather milk-toast support for self-driving cars.

Mark Fields had been in the auto industry for most of his entire career. He was a long-time Ford employee. He was the CEO for three years and then in mid-2017 got booted out of the head job. What happened? Depending upon which version you prefer, there are different reasons for the gigantic job loss.

The version we’ll go with involves that during his tenure as CEO, he made what many considered to be a half-hearted effort to go toward self-driving cars. He infamously came out and had said that Ford would not be the first to come out with self-driving cars, and indeed added fuel to that fire by saying that Ford didn’t even want to be first.

This would normally be a prudent thing to say. He was merely trying to suggest that self-driving cars are still an unknown and that as a conservative company that wants to make sure it does things right that it wanted to make sure that self-driving cars are perfected before Ford brings them out. Certainly seems like a rationale thing to say. Very mindful of consumers. Also, as a large company with a massive base of shareholders, one could say that he had a duty to protect them from potentially crazy fads. His approach seemed to be measured, allowing him to say that Ford was doing something about self-driving cars, but not betting the farm on it. Let those wild tech companies stick their necks out on self-driving cars. Ford owes its stockholders and its car owners to be prudent about where it focuses its time and energy.

Yes, that might seem like a solid and sensible outlook, but Ford got hammered. During his tenure, the stock had slipped 40% in value. Some viewed that the lack of eagerness for self-driving cars showed how backward and lumbering Ford was. It just seemed to reinforce the belief that major car makers are stodgy and stuck in the past. It was akin to taxi companies that wanted to act like Uber and Lfyt weren’t much and so no real need to take them seriously.  Their lunch has gotten eaten by these ridesharing services.

Once Mark was ejected from Ford, they put Jim Hackett in his place. Jim has essentially no particular auto industry experience, but had been brought into Ford a year earlier to head-up their self-driving car efforts. Bill Ford even came out and emphasized that Jim was a transformative leader that would take Ford to where it needs to go in the future. For many, this was a clear cut indication that Ford believes in self-driving cars and will be doing its upmost toward self-driving cars.

So, however you believe things played out at Ford, one aspect that seems relatively apparent was that Mark had not gotten onto the self-driving car bandwagon. What could he have done? He could have been gushing about how it was the future, even if maybe back at the ranch only giving it half-hearted attention. In this case, his own words seemed to get him hung. As a major auto maker, the tsunami of interest in self-driving cars was squarely in his industry, and he sidestepped it. As we can see, he did so at his own peril.

We’ve gradually seen that most of the car makers wised up that whether the self-driving car is going to make it or not, it’s a much safer bet to go along with the idea that it might. The public perception of auto makers that don’t jump onto the bandwagon is just so severely limiting that it makes little sense not to join the bandwagon. The good news for those on the bandwagon is that since nearly everyone else has gotten onto it too, if the self-driving car does hit a rut and goes sideways, at least you can say that you aren’t the only one and that it caught everyone by surprise.

Recently, Fiat announced it is joining a self-driving car partnership that had already been formed between BMW and Intel.  This is a clever way to get onto the self-driving car bandwagon. Associate yourself with other seemingly progressive companies that are pursuing self-driving cars with great vigor. Doing so prevents your stockholders from carping at you that you aren’t doing something about self-driving cars. You can point to the partnership and say, look at these great partners we’ve mated with.

Fiat Chrysler had already dipped a toe into the self-driving car realm by providing the Pacific hybrid minivan to Google for Waymo’s self-driving car efforts. This helped get them a seat on the bandwagon, but many still perceived that they were only half-on and half-off. What to do? If they launched into their own self-driving car effort it could be quite expensive. And, as I say, if self-driving cars aren’t going to become real, it could be a lot of dough down the drain. Thus, the partnership approach gets them further into the self-driving car realm but does so by hedging their bet.  They are unlikely to make a big lotto ticket type win, on the other hand they aren’t going to get beat-up about the head for not being into self-driving cars.

Fiat Chrysler’s CEO said it well: “Joining this cooperation will enable FCA to directly benefit from the synergies and economies of scale that are possible when companies come together with a common vision and objective.” In other words, we are hedging our bets by distributing the risk, and even though we aren’t likely to get a home run by having developed the self-driving car ourselves and have a lock on it, we will at least be in the swimming pool with everyone else and have a good chance of being there when (if) it takes off.

It seems rather obvious that any company in the auto industry should be joining the self-driving car bandwagon.

What about other industries?

Of course, ride sharing companies are getting onto the self-driving car bandwagon. They have to do so. They are considered progressives due to how they leveraged high-tech to get to their now explosive and disruptive position.  If they won’t embrace the next big high-tech thing, they would be considered really out-of-touch. They would be considered heads-in-the-sand. They live and die by tech.

This also applies to the high-tech companies.

For example, Apple has been swinging back and forth about how much it is into self-driving cars. The early indications were that they were going to do a skunk works effort and come out with an amazing self-driving car that would turn all other self-driving cars into shame. Think of it like surprising the market with the iPhone and putting other mobile phones to shame. But, then Apple seemed to have wavered from that be-there-first perspective, and we’ve seen that instead they are more aimed toward providing tech for self-driving cars, rather than becoming a kind of auto maker themselves. Nothing wrong with that, by the way, and I am merely pointing out how hard it is to decide where on the self-driving car bandwagon you should be.

We’ve seen that Amazon realizes the value of the self-driving car bandwagon. What better way to make that last mile to reaching the consumer? Use a self-driving car. They already got such incredible publicity out of the idea of drones that fly and deliver your Amazon goods, so why not also try for a self-driving car.

We’ll gradually see others get onto the self-driving car bandwagon, including companies that maybe at first surprise you.  One of my favorites is the current experiment being done by Domino’s.

When you order pizza from Domino’s, they were one of the first major pizza delivery firms to exploit the use of mobile apps and really did well by doing so. Consumers could load-up the Domino’s mobile app, order their pizza, and then watch as the pizza moved from stage-to-stage of reaching them. The app would tell you that the pizza was being made. Then, the pizza is on the delivery vehicle. Then, the pizza is nearing your location.  Clever and caused a lot of consumers to feel like Domino’s was hip, using high-tech in a business that presumably is only about making pizzas.

Domino’s is at it again, and this time they are aiming at self-driving cars. They are doing an experiment with Ford to outfit the Ford Fusion Hybrid self-driving car with special pizza containers. The pizza remains nice and hot inside the container. You order a pizza and receive via the mobile app a numeric delivery code. When the self-driving car pulls up to your place, you go out to the vehicle, enter your delivery code on a pad outside of the car, the back window opens, you grab your pizza box, and voila you’ve been served by a self-driving car.

Note that the experiment is only right now in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so if you are rushing right this moment to order a Domino’s pizza and if you don’t live in Ann Arbor than a regular pizza delivery person in some downtrodden rusty car is going to be delivering your pizza, not a shiny new self-driving car, sorry.

They are touting this as an ethnographic research project, one that is trying to figure out how to best deliver pizza and whether people are willing to have it done via a self-driving car. You might wonder why they care. Well, if soon we are going to have self-driving cars, and right now if Domino’s relies on pizza delivering humans, what is Domino’s going to do?  I suppose you could say that they should just put a delivery person into the self-driving car, one that doesn’t even need to know how to drive a car (that might help to keep their labor costs lower), and then the self-driving car can take the delivery person to the place where the pizza is to be delivered.

This does bring up the side aspect that will people be willing to leave their home or apartment to walk out to a self-driving car to get their pizza? If you are in your pajamas, you are probably not going to want to make that walk. If you are half-drunk, you are probably not going to want to make that walk. We’ll need to see how many are willing to not have the pizza actually delivered directly to their door.

Right now, the whole thing is part research and part cleverly devised public relations. I tip my hat to them. This is the perfect example of being on the self-driving car bandwagon. The cost to do the experiment is low. The public relations is high. They get tons of attention for the effort, and maybe it produces something and maybe not. Either way, it shows Domino’s as being progressive, which is exactly what it wants to do and needs to do to keep those fickle pizza eaters coming back.  It makes Ford look progressive, and turns those millennials that like the hipness of Domino’s into thinking that old-timer Ford aka “my parent’s car company” is maybe a firm they should consider buying a car from.

You might be saying to yourself, hey, Lance, I’m not an auto maker, I’m not a ride sharing service, I’m not an Amazon, I’m not a Domino’s, so how do I get onto the self-driving car bandwagon?

Glad you asked.

There are other ways.

If you are a software developer, you can recast your skill set into the self-driving car marketplace. This is growing rapidly. Unfortunately, you don’t have much time to get there. The self-driving car industry is scrambling to develop software and right now they need the developers. If it takes you a year or two to reskill, it is likely by then that the mania will have subsided.

If you are doing research in almost anything that could be allied with self-driving cars, you would be wise to consider making something about your research that applies to self-driving cars. We’re seeing more research monies flowing over to work on self-driving cars. It’s mainly in the AI field and the engineering fields, but there is also some heading toward the social sciences, economics, and other fields that can help us figure out what impact self-driving cars are going to have on us.

For any kind of bandwagon, especially in high-tech, you need to consider where you want to be.  Here’s the possibilities:

a) Be on the bandwagon

b) Be thinking about being on the bandwagon but not yet made the leap

c) Got onto the bandwagon but did so too early and now are burned out

d) Got onto the bandwagon but did so belatedly and missed the relish of it

e) Hate the bandwagon and refuse to get onto it

f)  Were runover by the bandwagon and wish you had seen it coming

g) Didn’t even know the bandwagon existed

h) Other

Whether you love or hate the idea of self-driving cars, and whether you think self-driving cars are imminent or they are decades away, right now there’s a bandwagon associated with self-driving cars. Where are you standing?

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.