Nissan CEO Wrong About Self-Driving Cars And Ride-Sharing

| About: Nissan Motor (NSANY)


Nissan’s CEO said that ride/car-sharing can be undesirable given increasing personal information “left” in the car. This makes no sense.

Nissan’s CEO said that self-driving cars are hampered because of a lack of connectivity inside the car. This also makes no sense.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay mean that you don’t leave your personal information in the car. Even so, you can have multiple user logins, just like Android and Chrome OS.

You already have connectivity inside the car given that smartphones have had WiFi sharing since 2008. No need for something new here.

A Nissan shareholder might want to be worried about Nissan’s future, if strategic decisions are made on the basis of these assumptions.

Nissan (OTCPK:NSANY) CEO Carlos Ghosn is on his 17th year as one of the industry's largest auto bosses. None of the major automakers have had a sitting CEO in charge that long. He is now CEO of both Nissan and Renault.

Clearly, Ghosn has been very successful. He turned Nissan from the brink in 1999 to major market share gains in recent years, and into profitable territory. For example, and most recently, Nissan (including Infiniti) sold 1,484,918 cars in the US in 2015, up 7.1% from 2014.

For this reason, I found it a bit worrisome to hear Ghosn make a couple of what I thought were very poorly thought-out remarks at an event held in conjunction with the Detroit Auto Show last week.

They were comments that make me question his product vision for the future.

First of all, on the subject of ride sharing (or car sharing more generally), Ghosn said he was skeptic for this one reason: Personal information in the car. His argument was that people are leaving more personal information in the car, and that they therefore don't want to share the car.


He drew the analogy with a smartphone. He said that of all the things he might want to share, his phone isn't one of them.

What on Earth was he talking about? First of all, a main point of Android Auto (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CarPlay is that you don't have any of your personal information in the car's systems. You just plug your phone into the car for display and amplification purposes. When you leave the car, the information goes with you. It does not stay in the car.

Second, even your phone is shareable. Perhaps Ghosn has an Apple iPhone. At least on Android, there's a guest mode and multiple-person logins - just like there is on a Chrome OS device such as a Chromebook. The logins are personal, and you never have access to another user's information.

Therefore, even for car systems outside of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, you would not expose your personal information, if the systems are designed with even the most basic level of multi-user partitions. Every driver of the car simply has a separate login.

There are many arguments against car sharing. Clearly there is and will be some car sharing, the question is only how much. However, the argument put forth by the Nissan CEO is absolutely incorrect in every way.

It even makes me wonder about Nissan's position on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which it hasn't made available on any car yet. Not a good sign.

The second argument Ghosn made was this: For various degrees of self-driving cars to become desirable, you need something to do in the car. Specifically, he was referring to connectivity. What he meant by that, is that you should be able to watch TV, surf the web, work on emails etc., while the car drives for you.

Again, this argument makes absolutely no sense at all either. Has Ghosn ever heard of a smartphone's ability to serve as a WiFi hotspot? Everyone with a smartphone today already has the ability to connect all sorts of entertainment and productivity devices with cellular data right now. It's been widely available on smartphones since at least 2008.

You can have multiple people working on laptops in the car, and other people watching TV on tablets and equivalent - all without the automaker needing to do anything at all. There is no need for "connectivity" to be added to the car itself. Yes, it's a nice to have if the car itself has some sort of connectivity and WiFi hotspot in addition to your own smartphone, but it's by no means essential.

There are lots of arguments against various degrees of self-driving cars: They will make you lazy and inattentive, they will be susceptible to hacking and government taking over your car, they simply won't work reliably, and so forth. I'm in the camp of believing they will cause far more deaths over time "thanks" to dictatorship and genocide, than they'll save in terms of 32,000 annual "traffic deaths" in the US alone. But none of that is what Ghosn was talking about.

Saying that self-driving cars won't be popular because cars are missing built-in entertainment connectivity, simply isn't a sane argument. It baffles the mind. Besides, all GM (NYSE:GM) and Audi (OTCPK:AUDVF) cars already have it today, so if that's the obstacle, what's Nissan's excuse?

Perhaps the Nissan CEO had a long day and was a bit dizzy while making these remarks at a fireside chat in front of a large banquet hall. Perhaps he was just not thinking clearly, just winging it.

But if not, I'm both surprised and worried. His two arguments simply didn't make any sense at all.

Disclosure: I am/we are long GOOGL, AAPL.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: At the time of submitting this article for publication, the author was long GOOGL and AAPL. However, positions can change at any time. The author regularly attends press conferences, new vehicle launches and equivalent, hosted by Nissan. The author also regularly test-drives Nissan cars.

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