Looking Out - The Podcast: Ep. 6

In this episode:

GMs post-CarPlay Culture

So GMs gone out on a limb and said they’re ditching Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for their next generation of cars. To help them on their way, they’ve hired Mike Abbot, formerly head of Apple’s (notoriously) flakey iCloud services.

But we reckon that hiring a big name from another sector won’t be enough to fulfil GMs connected car ambitions. The company will need to fundamentally rethink their culture, and we offer a few ideas for how they might get started.

The Paris Scooter Ban

Despite a voter turnout of only 7%, 89% of those voters decided to ban eScooters from the streets of Paris.

In one of the cities we’ve previously noted as on of the most progressive when it comes to adopting micromobility solutions, one which has invested heroically in reducing the dominance of the car, it was a sad day.

Joe references some research that shows why Parisians might have felt so strongly about the arrival of the scooters (hint: it has to do with parking), and we talk about the long arc of change in our city environments, and how we might work with it, rather than against it.

Generative AI and Auto Industry Biases

As the world debates whether AI is going to kill us or save us, some automotive designers have taken to generative AI tools like DALL.E and MidJourney with unsurpassed glee.

But as Drew reveals, the tools are currently perpetuating the worst of the automotive industry’s biases when it comes to gender diversity, representation, and inclusion.

It’s a rapidly evolving space and a split is already emerging between designers who love the tools, and those who are against the creative theft that underlies the models on which they’re based.

We talk about the need for car companies to consciously and intentionally engage with these topics to make sure they’re not caught up in another Volkswagen/Xinjinang situation.

That’s it for this episode! Thanks for listening.

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And you can sign up for Looking Out - The Newsletter, the sidekick to our podcast, here: automobility.substack.com

Show produced by Chris Frith

Click Read more’ for the transcript

  • The End of Grey at Fiat - Fiat takes a stand against the dull days of grey
  • AI Is a Lot of Work - an article looking at the vast numbers of people needed to classify the content that informs artificial intelligence models


Note: This transcript is machine-generated and may contain some errors.

[00:00:00] Drew: Hello, I’m Drew Smith.

[00:00:02] Joe: And I’m Joe Simpson.

[00:00:03] Drew: And welcome to Looking Out the podcast, auditory sidekick to the newsletter in which we connect the dots across mobility, design and culture.

Coming up in this show, we explore:

  • why GMs culture will be key to life after Apple CarPlay,
  • making sense of the Parisian scooter ban.
  • And is generative AI perpetuating the worst of auto industry biases?

Right. Let’s get this show on the road.

So first up, why GMs culture is going to be key to life after Apple CarPlay?

Look, GM has some form making some really strange decisions. There was the time it took back all of its electric cars and crushed them.

And Joe and I are old enough to remember the Cadillac Cimarron.

But it’s recent announcement that starting with its electric vehicles next year GM is going to do away with offering Apple CarPlay in its vehicles caught many of us off guard.

And it seems more than a little foolhardy given that over 75% of customers in North America say that they think CarPlay essential to them even putting a vehicle on their consideration list.

Part of GMs reasoning is that it can better Apple and Google and their Android platform when it comes to offering in-car experiences, which given the auto industry’s hit rate on all things software, sounds a little bit like a tall order.

But GM believes it’s hired the right man to scale that mountain in its appointment of former Apple exec Mike Abbott.

So why is this interesting?

Well, in the words of friend and my coach, Andy Polaine, GMs chosen to hire the person formerly in charge of Apple’s most flaky service to make a flaky in-car entertainment system for GM. That’s right: Mike Abbott was former head of iCloud at Apple.

But all joking aside, it’s a reflection of a mistake I’ve seen companies make time and time again. They think that they can hire in a person a star to solve all of their problems, whatever their domain, when the real challenge here is changing GMs culture.

Car companies are bringing in big names from outside the industry like Mike, in the hope of keeping up with or transforming themselves into mobility tech firms capable of delivering the kind of experiences and services customers want, and that shareholders demand.

But this butts up against 120 years of heavy industry culture, a carefully evolved and optimized machine that’s often deeply resistant to change.

So Joe, I have some thoughts about how we can make that transition smoother and help both new leaders and incumbent organizations actually move down this path of, uh, digital transformation.

But before we dive into that, I’d really love to get your take from, from the here and now, from the frontline on how the industry is dealing with the software defined vehicle issue.

[00:03:27] Joe: Oh, Drew, I think it’s the million dollar question right now.

Um, this industry we’re in and its transformation from basically being a heavy, uh, mechanical engineering led industry to one that wants to lead in and understands it needs to get its head around software.

Um, People perhaps on the outside of the industry think, you know, it’s just about transitioning to electric cars or it’s just about transitioning to direct to consumer sales. It’s not, it’s a whole ecosystem change. It’s a whole way of thinking change. And for anyone seeking to understand this better, really recommend, um, the, uh, interview that Robert Llewellyn in, um, from the Fully Charged Show podcast did with Ford CEO Jim Farley.

Farley explains really neatly and simply what the challenge is for automakers here and how. In essence, over 120 years, automakers have built up this supply chain and this relationship with suppliers where a supplier like Bosch or Continental will deliver a thing into a car company. That thing will have its own code, its own software. And what the car maker has done historically is kind of daisy chained all this together. Um, and you maybe have across a car, a hundred different suppliers, but now in an electric vehicle world where actually. It’s really important that one part of the car knows what another part of the car is doing.

Farley explains how, what an monumental challenge this is for the auto industry because it’s not only a change in the way that it’s done things, but it’s also fundamental change in terms of the, okay, so suddenly we’ve gone from a suppliers just delivering us this and us simply plugging it in. I’m oversimplifying, but to, okay, we have to now make this stuff all make sense ourselves.

And I think this is what you’re talking about at at one level, this is about massive fundamental cultural transformation. And in any industry, in any organization, that’s hard. And auto companies are deeply cultural beasts, often huge sprawling organizations with tens of thousands of employees across different nations, and many of those employees have kind of been in the company a long time, grown up with that kind of history.

That’s very different to the future. So I think your point here is key. You can bring people in, but. Often those people, it feels maybe like skimming a stone across the surface. It will create a few ripples, but I don’t know how it fundamentally drives change. And I think what’s interesting is you have some experience in understanding how you really change cultures.

[00:06:27] Drew: Yeah. And look, I mean, the thing is this, this, this idea of bringing in, um, superstars from other industries, um, people who have had enormous success in delivering digital transformation in one domain, bringing them into a different organization and hoping that just by virtue of their star power and their history, they’re going to be able to right the wrongs within this new organization.

But as you’ve pointed out, um, Unless you, and until you can address the culture, the ways of thinking, let alone the ways of working of this new organization, that that new person is gonna have a really, really tough job. And I think what, what I have seen so often is, um, change. Um, change is something that very typically is thought of after the fact.

Um, it’s something that is very often, uh, just kind of a line item, well down the order of priority when it comes to digital transformation initiatives. Whereas in actual fact, it, it, cultural change needs to have the same level of prioritization as, um, you know, upgrading the digital infrastructure of the business, right?

Or developing new, um, electrical architectures for the vehicle because, If you’re developing new electrical architectures, uh, your engineers are gonna have to be thinking in a different way in order to ensure that the software that will be running those architectures is gonna interface effectively with all the various components.

And what is so often missed is, How do you make this change personal? How do you get individuals within the organization sufficiently invested that this is gonna be something that they want to engage with? Right. Quite often you see a, like a vision statement that’ll be plastered on the wall of an office.

And many organizations think, well, we’ll stick this up on the wall. We’ll run a couple of presentations and the job will be done. Change has to be made far more personal and far more atomic than that.

First of all, that vision needs to be drawn out of and developed in partnership with the people whom are going to be subjected to that change or are going to be party to that change. But second of all, you need to give those individuals the opportunity to start making that change real and tangible on a day-to-day basis in their work.

So how do you create the conditions for them to experiment with what a new way of thinking and what a new way of working is gonna be like, how do you make it safe for them to do that?

[00:09:27] Joe: Right. I was gonna come in and say, I think one of the things that you are dealing with here is fundamentally fear.

So how do you, uh, help people- overcome is the wrong word- but overcome the fear that ultimately this leads to them being made um, redundant , you know, sort of their job redundant, but what they do is no longer relevant cuz that’s a major fear and a major barrier.

But then the other thing that you are talking about is that in this new world, in the where, wherever the company’s going and the new way of doing things, that people have the chance to learn that it can go wrong and that they have that ability to fail. And that’s part, fundamentally part of the creative process. You need to create some kind of safety net and the ability for people to feel that they can experiment, play around, and learn new ways, and that yeah, we know that, you know, there’ll be a learning curve and it will go wrong, but that’s okay.

[00:10:22] Drew: So, so there’s a couple of ways that you can address that.

The first one and the most important one is to have senior leaders within organizations eating their own dog food. So, if senior leaders are imploring the organization to change, ain’t nobody gonna buy into that unless they can see their leadership actually personally invested in making that change themselves, screwing up, and that being okay. Right, trying new things and the results not being what, what is expected in your annual performance review. So that’s, that’s one thing. Get senior leaders eating their own dog food.

The second thing is to work with small pilot groups across the organization. So carve out space for, you know, teams to experiment with these new ways of working. And have them share and celebrate their successes and their failures again, so that that message, that change is okay and, and change is something that can be engaged with, with a sense of kind of optimism spreads down throughout the organization because, you know, fear is contagious, but optimism is also contagious.

So if you can start to see your colleagues and peers operating in this new way, your leadership’s operating in this new way: Huh! Maybe I should give this a shot as well. Maybe I might get something out of it.

So that’s how you go from words on the wall to actually being meaningful in people’s day-to-day jobs.

And I could talk about this for days, and we’ve only got about half an hour, 45 minutes, so we should probably move on. But it’s something obviously that I’m, I’m hugely passionate about

[00:12:00] Joe: Next, making sense of Paris’s Scooter Bar


Now back in last October, I found myself in a bit of a pickle in Paris and this pickle I got myself and several colleagues out of with the help of Paris’s scooters.

Now, that wouldn’t be possible because in the ongoing back and forth around shared micro mobility, perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Paris’s recent vote on whether or not to ban e scooters unanimously return a result which saw them cleared off the streets.

It’s hard to look past the fact that only 7% of those eligible to vote actually voted, but of those that did the result returned was that a startling? 89% wanted the machines gone. We already know that Skooters have really divided opinion and they’ve caused contention in many cities where they’ve been introduced. Some people love them, some people hate them.

So why is this interesting?

Well, a recent study by Cornell University Center for Cities dives into some of the reasons behind the ban and comes up with two clear and distinct reasons. I found this interesting because this is a topic we’ve looped back to again and again in the Looking Out newsletter.

So, firstly, The Cornell University research found that people tend to resent the way that scooters were introduced in the first place. In most cities, they were simply dumped sometimes in their thousands overnight flooding the streets.

Now culturally, any sudden significant and very obvious change tends to be tricky for societies to manage. Our societies tend to be quite stable, they tend to be quite well established and in our cities, although cities tend to be termed dynamic and you know, fast moving, the reality is that when it comes to infrastructure and things, they evolve, almost imperceptibly: buildings creep up over months, or it can take years to build relatively simple or seemingly simple new pieces of infrastructure.

So suddenly thousands of scooters appearing overnight is a rather shocking change that perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that took people off guard and some of whom didn’t really like. But the big issue that stands out to me is that funny issue of parking.

Quite simply, the research said that when scooters were parked neatly lined up in rows or in clearly marked bays, they tended to be viewed by people quite positively. But as we know, scooters are often left, scattered, fallen over in heaps, perceived to be blocking sidewalks or hindering other traffic. And then they’re perceived negatively.

And Drew, the reason that I think this is interesting is something that the author of this, uh, research calls Salience Bias.

So in short, we perceive the scooters to be badly parked and because they’re a new thing that’s perceived as a real problem, there are menace. But as the team states, bad parking of cars is actually far more prevalent. It’s just that cars have been around for so long and have their highly developed, dedicated infrastructure, we tend not to notice or we tend not to care. And for me, this brought us back to our last podcast and some of the things that, uh, Horace Dediu is saying, and I wondered if you had some thoughts on that relative to this subject.

[00:15:48] Drew: Yeah, look, I mean, I’m so, I’m just newly back in Australia and it, it’s, it’s interesting having lived away. Well, I mean for 17 years in total, but this time around I’ve been away for five years.

And what’s happened in that five years, um, is that the traditional Australian mid-sized car, so the Ford Falcon and the Holden Commodore, both of those are now outta production and you know, Australia. Australia was onto the SUV trend relatively early on. They’ve been kind of fairly consistent on our streetscape since the early 1990s, I would say.

Um, but what has happened since the Utes, the Commodore and the Falcons have all gone is we’ve now become a pickup country and Ford Rangers are absolutely everywhere. The Ford F-150, uh, is coming later this year, I believe, and we’re also starting to see a whole bunch of RAM products here as well.

And okay. I know you’re talking about micro mobility, I’m talking about like big trucks, but it’s the same thing. It’s kind of like this salience bias. I’ve come back to a country where I had one understanding of the, the scale of the streetscape that’s just been blown apart by the arrival of these trucks. Um, and here everybody thinks that, that, that it’s normal, it’s kind of okay because it’s just built up kind of gradually over a period of of years.

Um, It’s also interesting that here in Sydney, you know, we have had trials with micro mobility and it’s interesting to see that it’s still just kind of limping along. And the, the provision of infrastructure, I think continues to be a really serious challenge.

You know, when you go to a city where, Um, the city authorities have been really hot on making sure that the micro mobility providers ensure that the devices are parked well. The streetscape is just so much neat and I’m, I’m, I’m kind of surprised and, and I don’t know the backstory to this, but I’m kind of surprised that there wasn’t an opportunity for these micromobility providers in Paris to do a better job of keeping their product, um, better, more, more neatly arranged on the streets. In Austin, Texas, for example, you know, every time I parked a scooter, it had to be within a particular zone and I had to take a photo of it to be able to prove that I’d done the right thing.

[00:18:27] Joe: Right. And of course, this is Paris that we’re talking about.

Paris, one of the only cities in the world, or the first city, no, it wasn’t the first city, but one of the first cities to introduce a shared bike scheme. Velib as it was called, um, where you had to dock into a station. Um, you had to do that, you had to undock it, use your credit card to undock it and then dock it back.

Um, and then of course the, um, the shared car scheme, the one that I think ultimately failed, that used the little kind of Boloré cars, but they took out parking spaces and kind of like parked three of these, um, you know, sort of rentable cars. So Paris of all the cities in the world has perhaps you’d say form for very quick transformation of its infrastructure to adopt to, um, new forms of mobility.

So as you say, it seems perhaps surprising that there wasn’t an opportunity to go to a halfway house and sort of organize the scooters better.

But I think it points once again to this question of how do we. You’re not just breaking an auto industry monoculture in terms of vehicle form factor. It’s about the infrastructure that supports that

[00:19:42] Drew: And, and the thing that I find so, kind of, yeah it’s kind of upsetting about what’s happened in Paris, if I’m honest, is that, you know, the city has been leading the way Yeah. With Velib and Autolib, but, but in the past couple of years, you know, they’re getting rid of 90% of on-street parking. They’re massively increasing the provision of infrastructure for micro mobility in terms of cycle ways and, and, and what have you.

And it just seems like such a retrograde step. And I, I, I don’t think anybody wins, unfortunately. Obviously the, the micromobility providers have, have lost a market. But as you say, uh, you know, as you pointed out in the introduction to this segment, like they, they can be massively convenient. You know, when I was in Austin, I was using electric scooters to cross the city for South by Southwest, and it, it’s just such a lovely, convenient way to get around the city.

So yeah. Bit of a bummer all around.

[00:20:47] Joe: Yes, I, I would add my, what’s interesting is my kids absolutely love the electric scooters here in Gothenburg. If they, if I give them a choice of which mode of transport we were going to use for like, you know, a typical two kilometer journey, they would choose an electric scooter every day of the week and most of the time that will be replacing a car journey. So I think your point of like who wins is, is a really key one. And I, I hope that cities and the micromobility providers can continue to, to work on this and we don’t end up with frankly binary sort of plebiscite of yes or no to this.

Because I think it draws out, you know, the lovers and the haters and actually there’s a kind of, there’s an interesting middle ground where we can evolve much better overall city mobility.

[00:21:32] Drew: Coming up next is generative ai, reinforcing the biases we so often see in the automotive world.


In the most recent issue of looking out the newsletter, I recounted a curious case of fundamental misattribution.

Coaching my client as they developed a sales deck, I suggested that all the imagery which had been created with DALL.E, the generative artificial intelligence, could do with perhaps a greater gender balance and a greater diversity of racial representation.

You see, all the images of futuristic vehicles were accompanied by slim women in figure hugging clothes, and all the images of designers working on the cars of the future were older white men. So I said to Kostas, my client, perhaps you should try changing the prompts for some of these images: rather than a woman standing by a car, try a man.

I suggested the same for the images of designers. But here’s the bit that’s both embarrassing and enlightening for me. Costas had used gender non-specific prompts.

Here’s me thinking that he’d prompted specifically for a slim woman standing beside a futuristic car. That’s the fundamental misattribution bit on my part.

But no, he’d prompted for a person and it was the AI that gave him an idealized image of a woman and he’d prompted for designers, not male designers, but it was the AI that gave him a bunch of blokes

So why is this interesting?

Well, judging by the chatter in the industry and on platforms like LinkedIn, generative AI has taken design studios by storm.

But we already know that there are serious challenges around diversity in the automotive industry and around inclusion too. It was only the other day that I saw a photo of a proud design team posted on LinkedIn. Out of the 15 designers, one was a woman, and two were people of color. So what happens when, what?

So what’s the example set when the images produced by these new tools, these apples of the modern automotive designer’s eye, simply reinforce the industry status quo and the stereotypes we know we need to break in order to foster a more inclusive design practice?

Joe, we’ve had a few conversations about how, um, generative AI is making its way into design studios.

How do you feel about this?

[00:24:09] Joe: Um, I mean about generative ai generally? Excited. I think about this point: um, concerned and I think, um, we have got to take a step back and zoom out and say, what are these tools? At a very basic level, and I’m probably gonna upset people with what I’m gonna say now cause they’ll tell me it’s more but, um, it’s a, it, it’s a kind of, Subset or a matching of information that’s out there that already exists.

So these models were trained on the data that exists out there in the world, and unfortunately the means that we have a data set, which when it comes to something like car design or the advertising of cars, is inherently biased. If you look at it historically until I would say even, you know, the last couple of years and we still have a problem now, but I think it is slowly changing. We had these biases.

Look at, you know, when we used to go to car shows and how even five, 10 years ago, Um, well not name any names about which brands, but certain brands you would, um, know that the

[00:25:30] Drew: Lamborghini

[00:25:32] Joe: Lancia, um, the, um, you know, the stand staff were, um, you know, I think for some people the attraction over the vehicles and yeah, car studios are still unfortunately male dominated. So if you take something that fundamentally has been trained on imagery that exists in the past, you’ll get that past biases. And that for me is a problem.

Now you can start to do things with these models. You can start to train them with your own information. Um, you can sort of take a subset of the model, take it offline, and then start to kind of, you know, you can train it and I’m kind of curious about how do we train some of those biases out of it. Because I think that when people use these things, they don’t always think consciously. They’re thinking about what they’re trying to get to and you know, it’s a little bit, there’s a kind of parallel sort of in the world of when we talk about sort of autonomous driving. Well if that autonomous driving, you know, the kind of the, the classic trolley problem, um, it, it sort of is going to be biased to the views of what tend to be, um, white, middle class software engineers.

So you get similar set of kind of, of biases. Um, what thoughts do you have about how we, you know, begin to sort of, um, overcome and challenge some of these, these biases?

[00:27:04] Drew: How we overcome and start to challenge the biases, I think is, is largely down to the organizations that are developing the models.

And what I think is important for us as end users, and I’m thinking of us as end users, as individuals, but I, I would argue at the level of the organization.

So let’s say you’re a car company and your designers are using generative AI tools as part of the design process, so, Uh, do the work to actually come up with a way of assessing and understanding the impact of these tools within your workplace.

Actually be conscious and intentional about how you adopt these technologies and the prominence that you give them within your, your workflows because the other thing to, to bear in mind, um, I mean, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve pointed it out: these tools are picking up on patterns drawn from content available on the internet. That content’s all stolen, essentially, right? So these models have been built on, you know, copyrighted imagery that the original artists or the original designers, the original photographers, the original authors have not been paid for. So what does that mean for you as an organization if you’re essentially building your product or you’re inspiring your product off the back of stolen goods?

So that’s another reason to think intentionally about how you allow these, these, these services in.

The other thing. Um, and there’s a brilliant article that I will link to in the show notes. I think it was either in the Verge or in TechCrunch, which looked at just how unbelievably manual, um, artificial intelligence is.

What do I mean when I say that?

Um, there are enormous numbers of people. Um, typically, uh, uh, on the African continent who are working behind the scenes to classify the content that is going in to building the models, right?

So, just like Facebook’s content moderation was actually run by teams of people who wound up deeply traumatized by all of the bad stuff that they had to look at to help train Facebook’s content moderation AI, these, these generative AI tools are actually working off the back of human, um, coders, uh, that are working to identify what’s coming in, um, from the source material, be that that words or image.

And it’s not too hard for me to imagine that organizations could wind up in a situation where, A) they get dinged for intellectual property theft but B), they also get dinged for, um, You know, coercive or abusive, uh, or extractive work practices, um, beyond their borders. And you only have to look at the lawsuits that have been launched against, uh, Volkswagen, for example, uh, for its involvement in Xinjiang where the UN has said, um, you know, there have been crimes committed against the, the native population there, things start to get messy very, very quickly.

[00:30:30] Joe: We’re, we’re fundamentally talking, we’re fundamentally talking about ethics here, aren’t we? Um, and I think that, I think the challenge for any large company that’s trying to understand how to, how to use this stuff is it’s like we’re in that kind of Gartner hype cycle of kind of, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re probably approaching the peak of, you know, uh, inflated expectations.

And I think AI will obviously have an impact, but I think, you know, it will, it will settle and it will go, go through that sort of peak and trough and then kind of onto the slope of Enlightenment.

Um, but, but what you’re talking about is this, um, Tricky thing to, to get right, which is like, there are clearly ethical issues, you know, behind it.

I know there are many designers, if we’re talking specific about car design, there’s a real divide in the, in the industry right now as well between those who are playing with it, excited by it, see its future thinking will help them go faster. And those who think, to your point, it’s like this is fundamentally promoting theft because it’s all being driven by imagery that, you know, the artists or the designers haven’t been paid for,

For large organizations, the challenge is how do you fundamentally understand how these things work, what they mean, be able to safely experiment with the impact they might have. And I think, you know, looking on the optimistic side, the benefit they can have, while, measuring and balancing against that fact that I think, you know, all big companies should strive to be ethical, and you don’t want a situation where you are literally exploiting human labor, where you are not paying people what you know for their kind of creative work or where to kind of come back to where we came in you are just reinforcing some of the very problematic biases that your industry has inherently in it.

Um, so I think that’s the challenge right now. It’s not, I don’t think it’s that we shouldn’t be doing any of this stuff. I think it’s just how do we navigate? And the problem is that I think quite often, probably, um, boards and CEOs, I wonder how removed they are from this stuff and how easy it is for them to get an understanding of, you know, how they should play this and, and how they should step through it.

[00:32:44] Drew: Yeah, absolutely. Look, there’s a, there’s a, there’s an amazing new engineering school, uh, that’s been set up in Australia by a former Intel fellow by the name of, uh, uh, Genevieve Bell. Dr. Genevieve Bell. She’s an anthropologist, but she became, um, you know, a, as I said, a senior fellow at Intel. She moved back to Australia a number of years ago and set up the 3A institute and her ardent desire is to marry up, um, the humanities and engineering, and particularly kind of computer engineering and computer science in order to determine more ethical and equitable futures.

AI is an inevitability. It’s happening. It’s the cat’s out of the bag and it, it, it’s gonna roll. Um, but I think every organization which is going to engage with artificial intelligence on a commercial basis would do well to think along the lines of Genevieve Bell and the 3A Institute to understand, okay, how can we engage with tech this technology in in an ethical way?


[00:33:55] Joe: Well, that’s it for the headlines, but Drew, what have you found interesting of late?

[00:34:01] Drew: Look after that rather serious conversation about ethics I am absolutely delighted by Fiat’s announcement of the end of grey. Um, if you haven’t seen it, uh, the CEO of Fiat, uh, who goes by the name of, uh, Olivier Francois announced via YouTube video, um, that, that Fiat was no longer going to be producing grey cars. He got himself into a grey Fiat 600 E ,was lifted up by crane, uh, and was dunked into a massive vat of orange paint. Um, It’s been a bit of a rash on the industry this past, uh, gosh, what is it? Five to 10 years? I’m trying to think back. Like when Nado grey first hit RS Audis. Right? That’s one of the first flat greys that I can think about. And then of course there’s Chalk at Porsche, a lighter but similarly flat grey. Um, And for me it’s always been curious that those colors, um, you know, are quite often referred to as battleship greys. There’s something kind of super aggressive and dark about them, um, particularly when they’re wrapped over the form of something like a, you know, an Audi RS. What’s also interesting at the other end of the spectrum though, is that we’ve got a resurgence in, um, pastel colors as well, and I got an email not that long ago from an anthropologist by the name of Grant McCracken and Grant, and I go back years and he asked me like, why are we seeing this? What what’s going on with these flat colors? And it was when I sort of put the grey on one end of the spectrum and the, and the bright pastels on the other. It feels like it, it’s mirroring the polarization that we’re seeing in culture, the, the polarization that we’re seeing in politics. On the one end, you’ve got this quite dark, quite aggressive vein that is running through, um, how we relate to the world at the moment. And then the other end, there’s an enormous amount to be positive about and there are people out there sort of talking in positive terms about the future. Um, so yeah, I, it’s just curious to me that we’re seeing this polarization in colors as we’re seeing polarization in culture and politics. But look, I, I think just on the topic of cars, the flat greys have just been done to death, and I’m just so delighted that Fiat has taken this joyful stand and is heading in the opposite direction.

[00:36:42] Joe: And as someone that once owned an orange car, I’m fully behind, uh, you know, bright colors and, and orange Fiats. It was an orange Renault. I totally, totally agree and I think, I think your point is interesting cuz I think colors always, inevitably are probably the most, um, trend driven aspect of, uh, you know, the industry and, and kind of generally obviously like relating to fashion and in design. And I think as in everything in the car industry, it goes a bit slower, but I thought of almost feel that the colors of the time are representative of where culture and society’s at. So, um, Perhaps we can look at it with a little bit of optimism as we move towards more poppy and more, uh, more pastly kind of colors.

[00:37:32] Drew: Yeah, look, I’m, I’m all for it, Joe, but look, what about you? What have, what have you found interesting?

[00:37:36] Joe: So perhaps on a slightly more dull, um, and again, serious note, I have been, I have been following with some interest, um, and I’m, I’m pretty sure our readers will be, uh, aware of this, or sorry, our listeners were doing the podcast, of course, not the newsletter, but the, the very seemingly very sudden, um, adoption of the Tesla. NACS- that’s North American charging standard- that seems to be going on, um, on the other side of the pond to where I am. So for those of you that don’t know, um, the background to this is that in North America Tesla uses something called the NACS or the North American Charging Standard. In America what was happening was that Tesla were using this standard and the other network such as, um, um, Electrify America were using CCS and Tesla has obviously started to open up the Supercharger network in continents like Europe. It’s been talking about doing it in America and about two weeks ago there was an announcement, uh, jointly Jim Farley and Elon Musk, that Ford were going to adopt the Tesla charging plug standard, and that from next year electric Ford vehicle owners would be able to use the Supercharger network. And then it feels like a house of cards has kind of toppled. Next day, GM announced. A few days later, Rivian announced. There have been others, including the, the the brand that I work for um, and it seems that we are seeing a wholesale shift in America where Tesla’s plug standard will become the plug standard for North America. Now why do I think that’s interesting? Couple of reasons. First of all, um, right now that’s a benefit. It’s going to be a benefit to uh, an electric vehicle owner that’s not a Tesla owner to be able to use Tesla Supercharger network. It is more numerous- tesla supercharges are more numerous than any other network- but perhaps more importantly, this is a huge issue in North America they’re far more reliable. Uptime, of the Supercharger network is way, way better than Electrify America’s, which if you follow any of the YouTube bloggers or you read the forums and you know about this stuff, it’s complained about massively. It’s a huge issue: charger reliability. So that’s interesting. Um, you know, it’s a benefit for customers. But then I think there’s a few more interesting things which are that, so you can, I think you can interpret this in a couple of ways. Is this Elon Musk doing good? They’ve opened their charging standard and then people have gone to it. Um, you know, and Musk sort of said, aim to not just like, you know, it’s not just about Tesla being the best, it’s about the faster adoption of electric vehicles and decarbonizing the planet. It could be looked at as part of that. But I think the other flip side, which is interesting is that, so a load of other OEMs are going into sort of Tesla’s equivalent of kind of an Apple walled garden of their standard. And I’d love to look at some of the agreements that have been signed and read the small print and understand a bit more about the, uh, the fine detail points of the contract because I think it’s interesting that then another OEM is joining a Tesla system where Musk is fundamentally owner, sole proprietor, creator, controls the standard. And N.A.C.S. Is not by any means perfect. It, it’s not able to charge as fast. For instance, as in theory, a CCS connector, it can only do up to 250, um, kilowatts kilowatt hours. Whereas the, um, the, uh, CCCs can do 350. So some of the cars that were on the 800 volt standard, like the Hyundais, Kias, Porsche, and soon and quite a lot of brands won’t actually be able to charge at their maximum speed on the, on the Tesla system. So I think this is really interesting in terms of what it tells us about future, the network, you know, walled gardens versus open systems and I’m curious as to what you think Drew.

[00:41:51] Drew: Uh, look, I mean, at the end of the day, what it feels like to me is automotive OEMs kind of giving up on something that they were never going to be able to effectively deliver on themselves. Right? Which is, which is charging networks. But rather than, at least from the outsider’s perspective, It feels like far too much, particularly in the North American market, has simply been left to chance and been left to a ragtag bunch of third party providers and what, what Tesla gives them, at least in the first instance, is consistency, reliability, and helps resolve the greatest barrier to adoption I would say for anybody looking to buy an EV in North America. , Now long term with the technical constraints of NACS, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. We’ve had conversations about, okay, well, like how often are you kind of using sort of maximum charging speed, right? Uh, and how often are the chargers actually able to serve it up? So, so maybe that’s a moot point. I’m not, I’m not sufficiently technical enough to know. But to me, it, it also at the end of the day, you know, Tesla, Tesla is a Tesla cars as products don’t have enough of a moat around them that company ever to gain the kind of market dominance that I think people, uh, might hope how it would. Um, but getting into the charging infrastructure business, um: You get to have every manufacturer out there by the goolies. Yeah. Right.

[00:43:53] Joe: You do. And this is the interesting thing. It’s like how much have they got them by the goolies versus as a Tesla owner: having the supercharged network has been one of the major reasons I would say to buy Tesla. It has enabled long distance road trips in North America, which otherwise I gather are potentially very tricky. When you suddenly got this system open to everybody, and you’ve got some, frankly, huge vehicles such as the F-150 Lightning, the RAM Rev, the, the Rivian coming, which I think is Ed Niedermeyer pointed out: the the current cable length on the supercharger means that many of these vehicles will often take up two bays just to park and plug in. I’m very curious as to how this plays out, uh, for Tesla owners and whether we start to see a negative response to that. But I think it’s fascinating to think about Tera as much more than a car brand and the Supercharger network and all that they’ve done right with that. Give them credit and it’s not just about this network, it’s up time and it’s, uh, numeracy. It’s about the way that you can just plug and charge and how- maybe I’m being unfair- but I think how damning that Electrify America was fundamentally funded by Volkswagen. It is the fine that Volkswagen were made to pay to atone for Dieselgate. Surely, surely knowing that they would move or try to move more quickly to become an electric car brand Volkswagen could have built in some of the protocols and some of the systems that Tesla did so that their owners had an advantage at electrify America. So you could rock up to an Electrify America station with an ID.3 or an ID.4, plug in, and the thing would start charging. But no. You still had to faff around with charge cards and credit cards and tags and apps. And I think it is some level of, um, indictment on that brand. And I think it also tells us perhaps about the, the economics of, uh, of, you know, charging networks. And it’ll be fascinating to see how this plays out,

[00:46:06] Drew: That it will. But for now, that’s it for this six episode of looking Out. It’s been a pleasure as always, to have you with us. If you like the show, please do leave us a review and if you know someone who might like the show too, go on, share it with them. For more about the topics on our show, visit the website at lookingout.io where you can also sign up for Looking Out- The Newsletter. Looking Out - The Podcast was written and presented by Drew Smith.

[00:46:37] Joe: And Joe Simpson

[00:46:39] Drew: With Sound and Production by Chris Frith. This is Drew Smith and thank you for listening. But, and it’s a big butt. This butts up. Oh no. That’s terrible.

[00:46:56] Joe: I told you I was, I told you I was tired when I wrote it. —

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July 19, 2023