With Uber’s Woes, Big 3 Car Companies Might Overtake the Self-Driving Car Race for Tech Talent
Did you think Detroit was going to sit back and let those young upstarts in Silicon Valley eat their lunch when it comes to getting a self-driving car in auto showrooms? Not on your life. Oops, maybe not a good choice of idioms when it comes to the general public’s lingering squeamishness about relinquishing the steering wheel to artificial intelligence.
But the Motor City’s got no truck with such squeamishness. The Big Three see the future and it is the self-driving car. And they want to be the ones we buy them from.
Now Uber’s woes is paving an even clearer path for Detroit. Uber might be seeing an early grave for their self-driving car future with former Uber engineer Susan Fowler’s sexual harassment reports to HR falling on deaf ears and a new lawsuit — alleging Uber’s recent acquisition, Otto, had loads of secretly downloaded and proprietary technical files from Otto founder and former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski – hanging over its head.
New Paysa Data Reveals GM and Ford Filling Their Tanks with Tech Workers
Although some industry observers say that the major automakers were slow to get up to speed on self-driving car, letting California tech-focused companies like Google, Uber and Tesla take the lead, they are now playing catch-up with a vengeance.
This has prompted in some cases a “if you can’t beat’em, join’em” approach with car companies and tech companies choosing partners like kids at a dance. And with Uber on rocky soil, U.S. automakers might be on to something by partnering with Uber’s very nemesis, Google and another leading competitor, Lyft.
“Auto and tech cultures have been intertwined for years,” a recent report in the San Jose Mercury News said. “Major automakers have established research labs in Silicon Valley, and start-ups and tech giants have partnered with vehicle makers to test ideas and products. Google has teamed up with Fiat Chrysler for its self-driving car effort, while Uber has partnered with Volvo and Lyft with GM.”
While they may be partnering with these companies for mutual benefit, new Paysa hiring data reveals that two of the Big Three, GM and Ford, have been binge hiring their own software engineers.
Over the past year, GM has added close to 3,000 new tech staffers to its employment rolls. Ford has hired 650. Chrysler though seems to be content to work with Google’s tech staff with no uptick in hiring in Paysa’s extensive database.
Other companies that Paysa sees are also hiring include other players in the self-driving car race. These include two companies competing to provide location services and mapping for AI cars. A mapping company owned by a group of European carmakers is hiring about 350 tech staff for its U.S. Chicago headquarters. And there’s nuTonomy, an MIT spinoff, beat Uber to become Singapore’s official self-driving car partner, according to Recode. It is testing its cars in Michigan and the U.K., where it has partnered with Jaguar Land Rover. They are currently hiring 40 U.S. tech employees. Other companies hiring but in smaller numbers include Drive.ai hiring 22 and Peloton hiring 12.
The Tortoise vs the Hare – Slow and Steady Wins the Race?
Brash tech start-ups accustomed to splashy success achieved by not playing by the rules initially scoffed at the established automobile industry as being too slow and stodgy to scrimmage with them in the self-driving car game. But some crash and burn experiences, notably a tragic fatality involving a Tesla self-driving vehicle and Uber’s self-driving red light-running Volvos being chased off the streets of San Francisco by outraged SF Mayor Ed Lee and the SF DMV, seem to have been humbling experiences.
U.S. auto companies had their own takedown in the 1960s by consumer activist Ralph Nader whose landmark book Unsafe At Any Speed was based on Chrysler. The resulting public outcry and federal investigations taught the Big Three that it’s better to be safe than sorry when consumer watchdogs are watching.
So like the tortoise in the classic Aesop fable, the automakers learned the hard way that slow and steady wins the race. With nearly 100 years of making cars, they seem to have decided to roll up their sleeves, dig in and win this.
“I think the auto industry, at some points, has been too slow. But you can see … many car manufacturers are changing their pace. At the same time, we are in an industry where safety and regulations are serious matters. And tech companies will have to learn what it means to operate in this environment,” said Xavier Mosquet, a Detroit-based senior partner in the automotive practice of the Boston Consulting Group in an interview with USA Today.
But with tech companies hungry for new products and markets to expand into, they are not giving up without a fight.
Bruno Fernandez-Ruiz, chief technology officer of Nexar, a startup that makes a driver-assistance package based on smartphone hardware and an app, said the difference between Silicon Valley and the traditional auto industry is fundamental. “We think software first,” Fernandez-Ruiz said, while the auto industry thinks hardware first.
Tesla Also Hiring But Going It Alone
Fernandez-Ruiz and his business partners started their San Francisco-based company in part because they were too impatient to wait years for automakers to roll out safety features.
Tesla’s new improved self-driving software Autopilot claims to get an edge over other companies by collecting data on driving patterns and environments — vital information for building and improving autonomous systems. Fernandez-Ruiz said auto manufacturers recognize the value in driving data collected by startups, and Nexar and many other tech firms have private agreements with major manufacturers.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “whoever has data is going to win.”
Tesla, of course, wants to win. So they in the past year they have hired 1,073 software engineers for their self-driving car program.
With their own vehicles and software, Tesla has not needed to form partnerships with any Detroit or European car manufacturers.
And speaking of Europe, another key player in the self-driving car race, Stuttgart-based Robert Bosch Inc. has hired 717 tech engineers in the past year. Bosch is considered the world’s largest supplier of automotive components. But in hiring tech talent right now, they rank third behind GM and Tesla but ahead of Ford.
No one though comes close to GM’s hiring numbers of 2,864 perhaps reviving that old saying, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the U.S.A.”
Detroit – Where the Jobs Are Again?
Is Detroit so out that it’s in again? Could be. Paysa data shows a whopping 2,846 new tech jobs in and around the Motor City, the historic home of the U.S. car industry. GM’s tech center in Warren, MI located about a half hour from Detroit, accounts for nearly half of those tech jobs. Dearborn, MI, Ford’s historic headquarters, accounts for another 469 positions. There are 327 in Detroit itself and the rest are in nearby towns and cities.
Before you scoff at Detroit, consider the tony suburbs like Bloomfield Hills and Gross Pointe with grand homes at a fraction of the cost of California’s. Plus there are the freshwater beaches of the Great Lakes with pretty beach communities like Charlevoix and Mackinac Island.
What’s more, indie roots musician Jack White, formerly of the White Stripes, just opened a brand-new vinyl record album factory in Detroit. The first in the U.S. in decades. So maybe it is time to go back to the future with Detroit.
But if freezing cold winters aren’t your thing, take heart. Paysa data shows that there are 573 tech jobs in the self-driving car field in Palo Alto and 488 in Fremont where Tesla has its factory. And there are 283 jobs in Austin, TX.
Still with most of the GM and Ford jobs offering base pay of $60,000 to $80,000 and requiring only two years’ experience and an undergraduate degree from a state university, it may be a good time to go Midwest, young techie.