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Connected Car Tracker: Who’s On First?

A few notable developments popped in the connected car and car commerce space this week. While nothing much of note occurred in payment technology proper, the broader ecosystem saw movements that will enable these future solutions to run smoothly.

First, new data made some rethink whom they’re eyeing to bring the first successful self-driving tech to market. For those who believed that self-driving capabilities would break out first from disruptive startups or tech giants, Navigant Research has a new study out that suggests otherwise.

Navigant pegs Ford as leader of the self-driving pack, with GM close behind. The report examined the strategy and execution of 18 leading automotive and tech companies developing automated driving systems.

The development of autonomous vehicle technology “has accelerated in the last decade, enabled by advancements in computational architectures and sensing technology, along with dramatic cost reductions,” wrote Navigant. “These advancements, combined with vehicle electrification and ubiquitous connectivity, are enabling automated driving to rapidly become viable.”

Ubiquitous connectivity combined with driving automation are the two key elements in the future of car commerce—along with, say, an integrated voice-enabled AI assistant to navigate (at least in the mean time when human drivers are still a thing) and to enable purchases.

Along with Ford, the other crowd leaders in the self-driving space include GM and Renault-Nissan. Next in line, Daimler, Waymo and VW Group are all major contenders, according to the study — though they lack either execution or strategy to make it to the top spots.

Tesla was placed on the lower end of the contender pool in Navigant’s report, while Uber’s autonomous car initiative is considerably behind the pack in terms of overall execution, though it leads some in terms of overall strategy.

It’s important to note that none of the 18 automotive and tech companies in the report were considered “followers.” And Tesla certainly isn’t following anyone in terms of market value.

At the beginning of this week, Tesla hit an automotive milestone.

Tesla’s stock surpassed $313 per share during Monday trading, leading a market value of around $51 billion — well higher than Ford’s and just a bit over GM.

Tesla’s numbers have since tempered slightly, bringing its cap down below that of GM’s again. Still, the event is telling. Ford has been around over a century and sold hundreds of thousands more vehicles in Q1 2017 than Tesla did for the entirety of 2016.

Tesla’s meteoric rise in value over the past few years that has lead it to break out over successful incumbents indicates investors’ bullishness on Tesla’s tech — at least on the electric end.

While Tesla’s eco-friendly offering no doubt appeals, the future of the automotive industry won’t just depend on how clean a vehicle runs. Connectivity and self-driving capabilities will also prove to be key factors in the commerce of cars and in-car commerce. Of the latter, Ford and GM are ahead at the moment.

Last up this week is movement on the technology, connectivity and integration end of the connected car ecosystem.

Three vehicle manufacturers recently announced new 2018 vehicle models that will be enabled with Apple’s CarPlay and Andriod Auto capabilities standard. This manner of connectivity is quickly becoming the norm in new car models. Last December, for instance, CarPlay had a presence in over 200 different vehicle models.

Upcoming Acura, Jeep and Hyundai vehicles will come with Google and Apple’s IoT integration capabilities that allow drivers to link and access their smartphone and apps via a vehicle’s dashboard screen or voice control.

Secondly, U.S. telco AT&T made a move to acquire Straight Path Communications to boost the telco’s bid to become a world leader in 5G technology. Companies are looking to develop a 5G-based digital infrastructure as a means to grow the adoption of AR/VR, the construction of smart cities and the abilities of autonomous cars.

It’s the same reason behind Toyota’s collaborative partnership with NTT — to research and develop a global IT infrastructure to support the data generated by the connected car market. Along with 5G connections, the companies are set to research AI and edge computing.

Toyota and NTT plan to announce preliminary results in 2018.

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