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How Auto Suppliers Are Revving Up for the ‘Self-Driving’ Derby

Rather than a sleek, orderly assemblage of race cars champing at the starting line for a conventional sprint around an oval, the competition for the future of the automobile is beginning to resemble more of a demolition derby—lots of players just rambling around the arena trying to take out anyone they can.

And while some of the new entrants are personal-tech giants that hail from Silicon Valley, most of the biggest players in the race remain the OEMs and major suppliers that have traditionally made the industry go round, including Johnson Controls and Roush Industries. This is true even in the emerging competition to create “self-driving” cars that would seem to favor Google, Apple and other digital titans that increasingly have been challenging auto companies on their own turf.

“We are not dabbling in this. We are going in with both feet, because that’s what our customers want.”

Johnson Controls, for example—a huge Tier 1 supplier of many value-added car-interior and hybrid-battery systems, as well as commodities such as regular batteries—is bidding to become a player as autonomous driving expands.

Earlier this year, the Milwaukee-based company unveiled a concept interior, as well as seating prototypes that will ease the ability of a car’s driver to work, relax and do things other than driving while seated in the driver’s seat. For instance, when the car goes into a ‘self-driving’ mode, the steering wheel of the JC prototype moves closer to the dashboard and the driver’s seat backs up to open up more legroom—and work room.

Roush Industries is another company from the traditional sphere that is helping to shift some of the emergent players in the self-driving category into ‘drive’. An engineering and specialty- manufacturing company known for its custom Ford Mustang models, Roush is assembling a test fleet of 100 Google prototypes of self-driving cars this year at its Detroit plant.

“We’ve built out a whole area specifically for this program,” a Roush spokeswoman told Automotive News. “It’s been a great opportunity for us to expand on our assembly capabilities.”

A new coalition of Michigan business leaders and politicians, called MICHauto, recently  unveiled an initiative to promote Detroit and the state for a new generation of mobility, including self-driving cars.

No doubt the auto industry and tech companies grow closer in some ways in their joint pursuit of the holy grail of driverless cars, as well as in the infotainment arena. For example, General Motors just announced that it’s bringing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to 14 models in its 2016 Chevrolet lineup of cars. The move covers nameplates that represented more than half the brand’s sales last year. The deal will let users of iPhones and Google’s Android smartphones interact with the car’s navigation screen with touch and voice commands similar to using a smartphone.

“We are not dabbling in this,” said Sajin Park, director of innovation and portfolio planning for GM’s Global Connected Customer Experience, according to “We are going in with both feet, because that’s what our customers want.”

Which companies will be able to call themselves “winners” a decade from now, after self-driving vehicles have become established? Traditional automotive suppliers and OEMs are confident it will be many of them.



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