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'The Key To Mobility': Ford, Lyft Execs Talk Autonomous Vehicle Development At NYT Event

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'The Key To Mobility': Ford, Lyft Execs Talk Autonomous Vehicle Development At NYT Event
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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Lyft chief strategy officer Raj Kapoor, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation CEO Kevin Johnson and Sherif Markaby, the CEO of Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F)'s autonomous vehicles division, discussed the self-driving vehicle market with The New York Times' Rebecca Blumenstein at a TimesTalks event at Detroit's Gem Theatre Tuesday.

Here are some of the takeaways from the panel.

Raj Kapoor

When asked about his reasoning for joining Lyft and the push for fewer cars on the planet's roads, Kapoor said it's an effort to combat global warming.

“There’s a distinction that was made early on, which is that yes, our mission to improve people’s lives with the best transportation," Kapoor said. "But what we realize is that over the next 10 years, there are 2.5 billion people moving into cities and there’s no way that just adding more cars and adding more roads is going to solve the problem.”

Reducing the number of cars does not mean reducing mobility, the Lyft CSO said.

Kevin Johnson

Blumenstein asked Detroit Economic Growth Corporation CEO Johnson about his thoughts on driverless technology development in Michigan.

“I think it’s important to note that Michigan, and Detroit specifically, got the development started. There is no city in the world that the automotive industry circles around as much as this city," he said. "Detroit has this DNA that makes the industry function that way where it can’t function anywhere else. Because we need to go out and promote that, that gives us competitive leverage when we talk to anybody from supply chains to OEMs.”

Rick Snyder

Snyder discussed the advantages of a shift to autonomous vehicles, particularly in an urban setting like Detroit.

“People skip over the benefits. The environment is some of it, but it’s really safety," the governor said.

"Over 90 percent of accidents are due to human error. It’s opportunity — we have seniors [and] we have people that don’t have access to transportation, and it’s an opportunity to change their lives.”

Sherif Marakby

“The success of things like autonomous cars is key to mobility in the future,” said Ford's Marakby.

“I think it’s funny when people compare Detroit to Silicon Valley, because we have really made a strategic move to create this environment here in Detroit. The automotive industry is really good at manufacturing things at scale with functional safety and making sure that it works every time.”

Marakby said Ford's recent purchase of Michigan Central Station, where it plans to create a nexus for its autonomous research and develop, was a strategic move.  

“We made a strategic move to grow the Corktown workforce, including the train station. We live in an urban environment, one where autonomous and electric vehicles will thrive."

Negatives

Despite advocating of the push for autonomous transportation, each panelist Tuesday listed downsides to this societal advancement. Snyder said the technology raises questions about class systems, or who the cars are available to at any given time.

“We have to understand there are some societal downsides to all of this. I believe we need to be equally responsible with talking about the implications.”

Johnson stressed the importance of investment in the underlying framework for self-driving cars. “As this industry expands, what concerns me is investing in the infrastructure and development of these vehicles. If we don’t get there quickly, then we’ll have all this technology and no place to put it.”

Competition

Blumenstein commented on Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA)’s strength in the market and the company’s recent problems, asking if peer companies should begin to feel smug.

Johnson said: "Smug is never a good position to be in. You sit on a lead, you usually lose."

Companies should adapt, adjust and innovate to maintain leadership, he said. 

"As far as that company is concerned, what they should rethink is re-engineering their flaws around [the] supply chain. In Michigan, we do things and we make things better than anyone in the world; we taught the world how to do it.”

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Detroit Economic Growth Corp. President Kevin Johnson, left, and Ford Autonomous Vehicles CEO Sherif Marakby participate in a discussion on self-driving cars Tuesday, Oct. 2 at the Gem Theatre in Detroit. Photo by Hannah Genig. 

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