Alex Kreetzer sits down with Dr Christoph Grote, Senior Vice President Electronics at BMW, to discuss the automaker's development in the rapidly evolving mobility sector.

Have we seen the end of the ‘traditional automotive era’?

We will continue a long-term, profitable, traditional business model and at the same time move into new business models, new technologies and customer segments. The automotive industry is changing faster than ever before.

The automotive industry is starting to take inspiration from tech players in Silicon Valley, focusing on flexibility, open-mindedness and innovation. How true does this ring for you?

BMW Group Technology Office, USA, in Palo Alto, California was founded in November, 1998 and is part of the worldwide BMW Group. Together with the BMW Group Engineering and Emissions Test Center in Oxnard and Designworks USA in Newbury Park, the BMW Group Technology Office Palo Alto forms the California Innovation Triangle (CIT).

The primary mission is to investigate leading-edge technologies in non-automotive fields, then transfer them to the corresponding departments in Munich. Although the Palo Alto office’s associates roam the entire US in search of new technologies, one of their primary areas of focus is California’s Silicon Valley, where the office is located. In fact, Palo Alto - in close proximity to Stanford University, the Berkeley campus of the University of California, and such leading technology companies - is situated at a unique nexus where some of the most innovative thinking in the country takes place. We also have a Tech Office team in Chicago which is focused on software development and digital services for BMW’s personalised digital mobility companion “BMW Connected”.

How important it standardisation and harmonisation in the development of connected automotive technology? Do we need to work together to reach the heights we have set for ourselves?

Partnerships and cooperations will bring together all the skills and capabilities needed to overcome the huge technological challenges involved in developing connected vehicles. For example our cooperation with HERE and our partners Mobileye and Intel all in regards to autonomous driving. Automotive value chain will be increasingly software driven and thence specialised software components as opposed to engineering services will find a growing market.

Ride sharing and mobility providers have changed the perception of modern transportation, with the need for a car ever decreasing. What has this stemmed from and how will this affect the automotive industry from both a consumer and business perspective?

BMW’s strategy NUMBER ONE > NEXT states, that the development of customer-oriented mobility services will be one of the company’s central business fields in the years ahead. Already in 2011, the BMW Group launched its car-sharing concept “DriveNow”. A modern mobility concept, which combines vehicles and service of the highest quality with simple, flexible usage. DriveNow was the first car-sharing concept to place an emphasis on efficient premium vehicles and comprehensive service.

Consumers now want their vehicle to represent an extension of their lives, stressing further importance on the entire ecosystem, how do you achieve this?

The future of intelligent driver-car connectivity is one of the key topics for the BMW Group. The next few years will see the implementation of digital services that provide total connectivity between users’ digital world – in our outside of the car. The vehicle itself is transformed into a smart device: intelligently connected, seamlessly integrated and perfectly in tune with every user’s personal requirements.

How vital have startups been to the development of advanced software found within vehicles today?

The BMW Group has started many initiatives to collaborate with start-ups. BMW i Ventures is the BMW Group’s venture capital unit. Investment in start-ups has proved to be an extremely promising commitment, both from a strategic and an economic perspective - which is why BMW i Ventures was expanded in 2016. BMW i Ventures invests in cutting-edge solutions focusing on BMW’s current and future business in the technology and customer & service space. We support high-potential start-ups in all stages, from early stage to late stage, which are dedicated to shaping the future of global mobility. We infuse startup mentality and products into the organisation and bring together the best of two worlds: the brand and engineering power of BMW with the agility and innovation of startups. As a part of the BMW i Ventures portfolio our partners benefit from our long-term experience, our strong reach and the broad network.

The BMW Car IT is another natural contact point for software startups.

The industry is starting to fill with software specialists who are important for the progression of the ‘connected era’ and hold the experience needed in this new leap for automakers. However, the abrupt expansion of technology has created a risky and dangerous place for manufacturers, as they must race to implement the latest technology in their vehicles before rivals, while remaining safe and reliable. How do you find the right balance?

We are convinced that we have the right team to succeed in this highly dynamic environment. Our motivated and skilled staff is the best possible foundation to successfully meet the challenges ahead. The BMW Group has a clear strategy towards future growth and success. We will transform our business based on our independence and strength. We have the relevant know-how and we are ready to embrace change.

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