Car Maven

By Lloyd Graff

General Motors is doing more than just making a $500 million investment in Lyft, the ride sharing competitor of Uber. It also appears to me that GM is doing more than just hedging their bets about the future of car ownership and usage.

The company has named its new venture “maven,” which I find both interesting and ironic. “Maven” comes from Yiddish. It means a person who really knows his stuff by accumulating a vast amount of information in a given area. For instance, someone who really knows shoes, boots and sandals could be called a “footwear maven.”

By hiring a team of people from Google, Sidecar and Zipcar and making the investment in Lyft GM is accumulating first hand knowledge of the future of driving. Ann Arbor, Michigan, is going to be the laboratory for the company to test several different types of ride sharing. Maven will rent cars by the trip, like Zipcar does, for as cheap as $6 per hour. It will place them strategically in residential blocks. The vehicles will feature connected car systems enabling music and other preferences to follow drivers from car to car electronically. WhatsApp, the ultra popular phone app for free texting and voice calls throughout the world, will be used to obtain customer feedback.

Eventually self-driving cars will come into play, but this is quite an interesting venture today for the traditionally stodgy General Motors. Looking at Maven from 50,000 feet, it has a head start on its competition—Uber, Zipcar, and potentially Apple and Google. It already has the “content”—the cars. GM is developing the delivery method of its content in a place receptive to new ideas and one right in its backyard—Ann Arbor. I find it exciting, particularly after using Uber myself several times in the last week because of eye issues.

Even where I live in the southern suburbs of Chicago, not the most sophisticated part of the metropolitan area, Uber seems quite efficient and easy to use. My average wait for a pickup has been seven minutes. My trips, 10-17 minutes, cost between $11-$15. If you figure the costs of driving a car in the city Uber is priced competitively, unless you use your car a lot and drive significant distances. The big statistic that GM, Uber and Google are staring at is that most people use their cars less than one hour per day.

I talked to my small sample of Uber drivers about their job. One fellow, who recently moved to Chicago from Los Angeles, said he views it as his full time business. He said he makes good money, has a lot of autonomy and plans to keep doing it long-term. My two other drivers were newcomers to the job. One was retired and looking for something to keep himself busy and earn some dough, the other was a rather uncommunicative woman who prefers to just drive in the area. She had been doing it for four months. Potentially, Uber and Lyft could sop up quite a few people on the outskirts of the workforce who do not want the boredom and cheap pay of a McDonalds or Wal-Mart job.

Question 1: Do you look forward to using self-driving cars?

Question 2: Do you think changes in driving patterns will help or hurt the machining world?

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14 thoughts on “Car Maven

  1. Erik

    I like to drive, and am a car nut. But I spend an awful lot of time driving between our facilities. I average about 180 miles per week doing interplant travel, with some weeks being drastically more than that. All that does is add hours to my already long work week.

    So, yeah, I think I’d welcome a self driving car for that drudgery. I could shorten my day, because I could continue to work in transit. We don’t have any public transportation where we are, so taking the train isn’t an option.

    As far as changes in driving patterns impact on the machining world? That’s a whole lot of new infrastructure, new ideas, and new products. With the increased customer feedback ability of modern media, I envision faster product cycles. I think it will be good for us.

    I used to dread the thought of autonomous cars, but people are so distracted these days, I think it might actually make the roads a lot safer. And just think about what it would do for seniors, the physically challenged, and people who rely on others to move them around.

    It’s a brave new world…..

  2. Don

    Given GM’s past actions, I would expect all of these new technologies to provide wonderful manufacturing opportunities… For the Chinese. We will just sit back and watch the world’s first marketable autonomous vehicle be a Chinese made Buick manufactured in a plant paid for by the US taxpayer. But hey, we can all work as Uber drivers to supplement our lost income. It’s a brave new economy.

  3. rick

    One must realize that the self driving vehicles are rapidly becoming accepted and will shortly be a commonplace reality , as well as trucks and buses.

    GM is smart by partnering and staying ahead of the game.

    I do SOMETIMES wish I could take a nap on long drives. However their temporary demise will come from the lawyers. Imagine the owner of one “robotic” car suing the the owner of another “robotic” car, suing the “robotic” car manufacturer, suing the computer manufacturer, suing the software company, and so on, and so on, and so on…

    Let us add into the mix the black-box requirements. This is an additional intrusive invasion of our privacy, and the continuing loss of our privacy.

    I also do like driving, so I guess it may force me to finally restore the rusty old classic sitting in my garage. {answer # 1}

    We, as manufacturers, are more than familiar than most how technology and automation reduces the labor and skills requirements, thereby reducing costs.

    So, yes – automated transportation will reduce transportation costs. {answer # 2}

    That said, what will all those well paid skilled drivers do for a living? The backbone of the country and economy is our truckers. Especially when our entire political class would like to legalize 50 million ILLEGAL immigrants. (YES 50,000,000 people. How did the 11 million number stay the same for a dozen years? But I have a habit of digressing.)

    Who will pay for ALL their endless welfare benefits???

    1. Noah Graff

      The trucker question is quite interesting. I never thought of that. I guess eventually Robots will be rigging machines too.

      First it will be robots to assist the riggers and then they will replace them.

      It will be John Henry verses the Steam Engine again!

      Lets just hope it’s not the Terminator.

  4. Jason Zenger

    I agree with Rick that this will bring some litigious considerations in the future, but I don’t believe that it will stop self-driving cars. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I have been interested in “The Good Wife” (a law show) because they have covered some interesting topics such as self driving cars getting into accidents and the legalities of 3D printing. I believe that in 10 years or so, most people will either have a self-driving car or not own a car because they can use Uber, Lyft or similar to get to work less expensively than owning a car. The result will be a decrease in cars being manufactured which will have implications for the manufacturing industry. At the very least, the average number of cars per home will go down. I live in the heart of a big city (Chicago), so I am seeing this already.

  5. Ryan W

    To this day we still can’t even get a printer to work without any issues….as much as I know about technology, I have no faith in self-driving vehicles.

    One of the biggest obstacles is choosing the logic concerning approaching pedestrians. If a self driving car is headed towards a pedestrian does it stop to save the life of the pedestrian, or does it veer off and kill the passenger? We generally would say, save the pedestrian right?

    With that logic in place, the computer cannot discern between an action someone else does purposely or accidentally. Meaning, a person could willingly jump in front of your car and cause you to veer off and die. I have a huge problem with that.

    Secondly, if we can automate roads for travel, it raises a red flag concerning our right to travel as Americans. If automated, it’s safe to assume we will monitor and schedule the roads to full capacity if necessary. If that occurs, then we will be forced to allow the government to make decisions on who can travel where at what time like air traffic control. Currently we all have the freedom to travel where we want, when we want, a freedom everyone holds a high value to. Putting restrictions on that will only increase the power the nanny state has on people’s ability to travel. Again another thing I have a huge problem with.

    Maybe it’s just me but I don’t believe in sacrificing freedoms for security or convenience.

    1. Ryan W

      Sorry, hit submit too soon:
      Meant to say:

      One of the biggest obstacles is choosing the logic concerning approaching pedestrians. If a self driving car is headed towards a pedestrian how does it decide to solve the problem?

      Does it continue through to save the life of the driver, or veer off and kill the driver to save the pedestrian?

  6. Peter

    I do not doubt that self-driving cars will be a game-changer, perhaps the most significant of the 21st century.
    The implications are enormous in terms of productivity (working while traveling and sending the car to run errands).
    Also for seniors as noted above: Many older people leave the homes in which they are comfortable and would prefer to end their days because they can no longer drive safely. Or on a more immediate basis, many older people don’t drive in the dark because of failing eyesight. The self-driving car will eliminate that restriction.
    Also for travel: Travel overnight in the car while sleeping.
    Many parents of teenagers spend enormous amounts of time chauffeuring. While the time with the children is worthwhile, the self-driving car will provide flexibility.
    As referenced above, although an accident involving a self-driving car gets a lot of attention today, I do not doubt that the self-driving car will very soon prove far safer than human drivers. Electronic surveillance can suffer malfunctions, but it is not subject to fatigue, distraction, or road hypnosis.
    Self driving cars combined with uber-type services will, I think, ultimately prove to be more efficient and effective than buses and trains because of the improved origin/destination flexibility.
    The list of changes that will come is limited only by the extent of most of our daily activities. One aspect that was pointed out to me recently (and would never have occurred to me) is that bar business will improve: There will no longer be a need for a designated driver.

    1. rick

      Discrete tasks require fine motor skills, including driving. The skill, competency and proficiency will deteriorate over time with the lack of use.

      People will drive less and less. Good drivers will will disappear just like a good old fashioned tool and die maker.

      So we will have a lot more lousy drivers…

  7. Jeff

    Self driving cars.
    I have a 120 mile 3Hr round trip to work every day. What will I do with all that road rage? Maybe I’ll take up boxing or get married again.

  8. Noah Graff

    Things that come to my mind are traffic, parking and carbon footprint.

    Will traffic increase because more people will decide to drive…er I mean use cars for transportation? Maybe the cars will work together on the road harmoniously which will make journeys faster. Will the self-driving cars give the passenger the choice to go 80 mph in a 55 zone, even though 80 is the standard speed of traffic, or will the car only abide by the law strictly.

    Will it hurt the environment because more people will choose to drive rather than use public transport? When people go out to a bar, they won’t need to take public transportation or an Uber or Maven because they can drink and then drive home in a car.

    Also, imagine parking! The car could drop the owner off, go to a safe spot and then return whenever the driver wanted. Free valet!

    It could be interesting.

  9. Lloyd Graff

    I think self driving cars are a ways off, maybe 7-10 years, as a dominant form of transportation, not because of the technical impediments, but more because of legal and infrastructure hurdles. I expect that many of the cars by then will be electric which will devastate the oil markets. I would go short on Saudi Arabia.
    I think fewer cars will be built because ownership will decrease and usage per car will increase. 2015 may be the last 18 million car year in America. But transportation of individuals and freight will continue to be a multi trillion dollar opportunity which is why Google and Apple and a lot of other folks want to play. For Google and Apple it is a mouth watering opportunity. They have the money, the intellectual infrastructure–everything but the cars–which they are working hard on now. GM has the cars and now they are investing in the execution and delivery of service. Very logical. But can they get it right?

    Maybe somebody like Elon Musk will come of left field to challenge. Who knows, but the opportunity is so gigantic over the next decade that a lot of folks will play.
    For machining companies it is going to interesting. Certainly there will be a lot of experimental work going on. I expect 3D printing to get a piece of it but I doubt it will rout machining for 10 years at least. But if I was running production I would be buying the best 3D printing machine available to be current in the technology. It is coming. We just do not know how quickly. I would then try to compete on some short run jobs with additive versus conventional approaches.
    Regarding Uber and GM, I think there is a reason little Uber is valued more than GM financially. And I think some of the folks at GM understand why.

  10. Morrie Goldman

    The autonomous car bandwagon seems to be on autopilot already. It’s pretty amazing how many companies have decided that this will be a gravy train and they want to get on board now. But is all of this expense and potential risk worth rushing into? I really question that.

    I agree that people with physical handicaps may eventually benefit, but even here there are problems. At least in the initial stages, it looks like a licensed driver must be the “copilot” in a self driven car.

    The big claim of course is that this will save lives, but much of the life-saving technology can be applied right now, at much lower expense that creating vehicles and infrastructure that is friendly to driverless cars. As examples, collision avoidance systems, auto lane controls, self-parking, auto stabilization, night vision and adaptive cruise control are all available now. There are also a variety of techno options to identify whether a driver is too tired to drive or under-the-influence and shut them down.

    While we are being told that the technology will be safe and hack resistant, we’ve heard that one before. Bank accounts, credit cards and medical records are routinely breached. How long will it be before a hacker takes control of your driverless car? There have already been some test examples of this kind of problem on conventional cars. Or for that matter, what happens if the central computer decides to reboot at highway speed? Glitches do occur. Look at all of the problems that have come to light with much simpler automotive technology, such as airbags and ignition switches. And of course, you can forget about what little privacy we currently have while driving.

    Finally, this is just one more example of technology dumbing down humans. Soon, we may not know how walk without hearing a cue from a headset.


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