The Road to Autonomy Podcast

The Road to Autonomy® hosted by Grayson Brulte is a podcast featuring unconventional conversations about the future of mobility.

How would you feel if the transport truck beside you on the highway had no driver? Or the car passing beside you had no driver? Would it make a difference if the widespread deployment of autonomous trucks could ease supply chain problems almost overnight and that autonomous vehicles do not get distracted or speed? And would you feel better if you knew autonomous trucks and vehicles could reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent or more?

Learn more from world's leading mobility experts on The Road to Autonomy, an ahead-of-the-curve podcast hosted by Grayson Brulte.

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Capturing Equity at the end of a Car Lease

Zander Cook, Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer, Lease End joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy podcast to discuss how consumers can capture equity at the end of their car lease.

The conversation begins with Zander sharing his insights into what he is currently seeing in the leasing market. Putting this into context, the average price of a new vehicle has risen more than $10,000 since the start of the pandemic to $47,920 in January 2023, creating the opportunity for more leases.

To this point it has been a little counterintuitive, actually leasing had its worst year as a percentage of new vehicle sales in decades last year.

– Zander Cook

One of the factors that drove the decrease in new lease originations was the rising interest rate environment. Even with excess cash from the covid stimulus, new lease originations stumbled while the market for flipping electric vehicles such as at the Tesla Model 3, Model Y and the Ford Mach-E only grew. Now that the covid stimulus has dissipated, the market for new lease originations is beginning to show signs of rebounding.

With a shortage of new vehicles due to the semiconductor shortage and historically high used car prices, consumers had equity in their leased vehicles when the leases matured. This scenario is not common and was driven partly by geopolitics and a vulnerable supply chain.

Lessees of Honda vehicles historically tend to have the highest average equity as the vehicles hold their equity. Could this change as more electric vehicles come online and consumers choose to lease EVs? If it does change, how will the battery be valued?

For those individuals lucky enough to have equity in their vehicle at the end of a lease, their options to tap into the equity are traditionally limited. This is where Lease End comes into the picture. Lease End was built to streamline the buyout process at the end of a lease.

Our entire business is streamlining the lease buyout process.

– Zander Cook

By streamlining the process, Lease End is saving consumers time and money. In as quick as 25 minutes, consumers can be on their way as Lease End handles all of the logistics and financing. Could this become the future of ending a lease? Perhaps, but consumers will have to learn more about their options to end a lease.

In my opinion the biggest thing there is going control back to the consumer. Right now most consumers think they do not have any other option besides going into a dealership and dealing with the dealership and doing what the dealership tells them to do. That’s not the case, that’s why Lease End was founded.

– Zander Cook

Wrapping up the conversation, Zander shares his vision for the future of leasing.

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Recorded on Thursday, February 23, 2023

Scaling Motional

Akshay Jaising, VP of Commercialization, Motional joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy podcast to discuss Motional’s commercialization strategy and how Motional is scaling robotaxi operations in multiple cities.

The conversation begins with Akshay discussing Motional’s commercialization strategy.

We have taken a very partner centric approach. We want to focus on what we do best, which is building the autonomy stack and then partners with players in the ecosystem to make robotaxis a reality.

– Akshay Jaising

Since 2022, Motional has had a partnership with Uber. Beginning with autonomous Uber Eats deliveries in Santa Monica, CA, the partnership has since evolved into a 10-year multi-market deal where consumers will be able to order a ride in one of Motional’s all-electric IONIQ 5 robotaxis. This will be the largest deployment of autonomous vehicles on a ride-haling platform. 

Las Vegas will be the launch city followed by Los Angeles. With the expansion into Los Angeles, Motional will be operating in the 2nd largest city in the United States. Los Angeles is a diverse region that has an interest in alternative transportation modes. Anything to reduce the amount of time sitting in stop and go traffic while having to pay attention becomes a win for the millions of individuals who call Los Angeles home. 

We feel it’s a pretty critical market that has shown customer acceptance for ride-hailing. Our initial pilots and tests in Los Angeles with Uber Eats have been extremely promising and well received. It’s a really strong proving ground to demonstrate how this technology could scale and solve very critical transportation challenges.

– Akshay Jaising

As Motional and the autonomous vehicle industry as a whole begins to scale and commercialize, attention is starting to turn from the technology to the economics of the business. Do the unit economics make sense and can the business operate profitability? These are big questions that will have to be answered. In order to answer these questions, AV companies will need long-term patient capital and this exactly what Motional has with Aptiv and Hyundai. 

In addition to Motional’s access to long-term patient capital, the company through the Aptiv/Hyundai joint-venture is currently having robotaxis built to automotive grade standards on the line. A factory-built autonomous vehicle is scalable. 

With over 130,000 autonomous vehicle rides completed to date, Motional is preparing to further scale in Las Vegas and fully commercialize the service. One of the main advantages to scaling in Las Vegas is that individuals arrive in Vegas and stay on average for 72 hours. When they are there, they gamble and enjoy all of the experiences that Vegas has to offer. They come flush with cash and open mind to trying to new experiences.

Creating the perfect opportunity to scale a profitable autonomous vehicle company as riding in an AV for the first time is an experience. Adding to the experience element, by the end of the year, Motional is planning to operate fully driverless in Las Vegas. Queue up the TikTok and Instagram posts. 

Another defining moment will be Super Bowl 58 which will be taking place in Las Vegas. With 325,000 visitors expected to attend the Vegas Super Bowl, Motional is actively preparing driverless operations which will be operating during Super Bowl Week.

We do expect to have driverless vehicles on the road in February 2024 when Super Bowl 58 will be there, and we are excited about that.

– Akshay Jaising

As Motional scales operations in multiple cities including Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Motional will be taking a hybrid approach when it comes to drop-off and pick-up zones. The company will utilize zones when they are available and at times they are not, the robotaxis will integrate into the normal traffic patterns. 

Wrapping up the conversation, Akshay discusses how Motional will roll-out service in each market from an economic standpoint.

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Recorded on Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Building an Autonomous Trucking Business

Don Burnette, Founder & CEO, Kodiak Robotics joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy podcast to discuss building an autonomous trucking business and why Kodiak did not SPAC.

The conversation begins with Don discussing the last 18 months in autonomous trucking and why Kodiak did not SPAC.

We had multiple SPAC offers, but at the end of the day we felt like we just didn’t have the metrics, what didn’t have what it took to be a public company.

– Don Burnette

Don and the team at Kodiak understood the difference between being a private company and a public company. Don, along with the team and the board, made the decision to stay private as they felt it would put Kodiak in the best position for growth, benefiting investors, employees and the entire company.

What you are seeing not just in the AV market, but beyond the AV market. You are are seeing a lot of blowback from companies that do not have any of the metrics that public investors want to see and while I think there was some hype and excitement early on in the SPAC craze cycle if you will call it, that excitement, that hype, that fervor has essentially evaporated and know companies are left with their fundamentals and unfortunately those fundamentals are not really strong.

– Don Burnette

Today there are 250 registered autonomous trucks available for deployment, while there are currently 4 million Class 8 trucks in operation. With less than a 1% market share, the time for an autonomous trucking company to go public is not there as the technology currently does not have the marketshare and/or the profitability to succeed as a public company when compared to the traditional trucking industry. Don recognized this fact and resisted the temptation of taking Kodiak public via SPAC.

I definitely think that Kodiak’s decision to stay private was the right one in the end.

– Don Burnette

In order to stay a private company in a challenging economic environment, you have to have financial discipline. Along with the financial discipline, you have to have the right team that works hard and does not get distracted.

At Kodiak we have been focused on over-the-road long-haul trucking, autonomy and that was our mission statement on day one and that’s still our mission for the company almost five years in. That focus and not allowing ourselves to get distracted has been a big component of our success.

– Don Burnette

As part of this discipline, Kodiak has never done a free run. All of the freight that the company has hauled since day one has been paid. On day one, Don made the decision to run Kodiak as a business, not a science project. This decision has been rewarded in terms of partnerships and the revenue that Kodiak is generating from hauling freight.

With all of the pieces in place, Kodiak is beginning to scale their business and preparing for driverless operations. To achieve driverless operations, Kodiak has developed a redundant safety critical system that ensures the safe operation of the truck.

Driverless operations will first be rolled out in the southern part of the United States partly due to the weather and the updated infrastructure. In addition to scaling autonomous trucking across the United States, Kodiak is working with the Department of Defense to develop autonomous technology that can save lives.

Wrapping up the conversation, Don discusses the future of the autonomous trucking industry.

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Recorded on Thursday, February 16, 2023

Decarbonizing Mining

Christian Spano, Director of Innovation, International Council of Mining and Metals joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss decarbonizing mining and how the circular economy can be ushered in through building stocks of materials that can be reused forever.

The conversation begins with Christian discussing what is being done to decarbonize mining transportation operations as there are roughly 28,000 large mine hauling trucks in operation collectively emitting 68 million tons of Co2 a year.

Health and safety at global mining operations was one of the early factors that started the conversation around the decarbonization of mining. From trucks equipped with ADAS to autonomous trucks, the aspect of how new technologies can improve the health and safety of mining operations is paramount to global mining organizations.

From 30 to 50 to 80 percent of the emissions of a mine come from haul trucks.

– Christian Spano

ICMM members are collectively working together to usher in the future of mining; a future that is sustainable and safe. To usher in this future, the infrastructure will have to be upgraded to accommodate hydrogen and electric vehicles.

The contribution of a mine turning net-zero starting with the mobile equipment, it’s a contribution to the country that is trying to decarbonize, but also accelerating the availability of all these solutions at scale for many other industries.

– Christian Spano

As companies begin to decarbonize mining operations, new jobs are being created. It’s not just jobs inside of the mine that will be created, it’s jobs outside of the mine that support the operation. Jobs such as material traceability will be created, but in order for traceability there has to be a global standard.

The demand for a global standard and material traceability will end up being driven by the consumer who demands transparency into the battery that powers their vehicle. The demand for EVs is not slowing down as in 2022, global EV sales surpassed 10% for the first time.

From a minerals and metals perspective, it is estimated that there could be a 20-fold increase in demand for nickel and cobalt by 2040. To meet this demand, we have to usher in the circular economy.

Recycling is not the circular economy. The circular economy is about building stocks that we can reuse forever. It’s about building stocks of materials that are durable.

– Christian Spano

The circular economy is a design opportunity. It’s an opportunity to redesign and rethink how we as a society approach metals and materials. With this approach, we have to keep all options on the table and approach the future of sustainability with an open mind.

Autonomous vehicles will play a role in the future of sustainability as autonomous trucks deployed in mines around the world will be cleaner and safer. ICMM members are actively embracing autonomy and deploying at their mine sites around the world.

Wrapping up the conversation, Christin discusses the future of decarbonizing mining operations.

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Recorded on Friday, February 3, 2023

Scaling Cruise

Oliver Cameron, VP, Product, Cruise joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss scaling Cruise, the passenger experience and the role AI plays in the Cruise product.

The conversation begins with Oliver reflecting on the last four years in autonomy.

The biggest change for me that has happened over the last four years is that in 2019 everyone in the industry was waking up to answer the question can we make a car safer than a human, a self-driving car that is safer than a human.

– Oliver Cameron

Now it’s 2023 and Cruise is scaling a safe autonomous vehicle service in multiple cities with no safety drivers. As Cruise scales, Cruise is listening to passengers and gathering feedback and incorporating their feedback into the product.

There is just something about self-driving cars that really sparks a sense of optimism in people.

– Oliver Cameron

It’s a sense of optimism that brings joy and happiness. The Cruise experience is a consistent experience that only gets better over time. The Cruise virtual driver never becomes distracted, gets upset or emotional. It simply drives you to and from your destination safely each time ride in one of the vehicles, it’s a consistent experience.

The human equivalent is not very consistent. You can have the world’s best driver and the world’s worst driver from trip to trip. Our experience is very consistent and it only gets better over time and that is something that is very special and unique to autonomous vehicles that the human driven equivalents will simply just never be able to match because of the inconsistency of humans.

– Oliver Cameron

As autonomous vehicles scale, they benefit as they gather more data that can be used to improve the product. As an example in less then 90 days, Cruise was able to launch fully driverless operations in two cities, Austin, TX and Phoenix, AZ. Oliver goes onto explain how Cruise was able to achieve this goal.

If our technology was not generalizable, well frankly there is no chance of us deploying driverless in Austin in less then 90 days.

– Oliver Cameron

As Cruise scales, The Origin will play a critical role in operations. The Origin will be an eye-catching vehicle that makes you feel like you are living in The Jetsons when you first see it. When you first enter the vehicle you will realize how spacious it is. From a comfortable experience to one that is controlled by voice, The Origin is ushering in the future of mobility.

Through their partnership with Honda, Cruise is currently testing in Japan. When it comes to expanding to new international markets, the team at Cruise is working hard to understand local customs and how individuals in those countries pay for goods and interact with digital devices on a daily basis.

This technology can definitely scale a lot faster then people think.

– Oliver Cameron

To enable the future of autonomy we need AI breakthroughs. Oliver and Grayson go onto discuss the latest breakthroughs in AI and how Cruise is leveraging their machine learning infrastructure to improve their product.

Wrapping up the conversation, Oliver shares his outlook for the future of the autonomous vehicle industry.

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Recorded on Friday, January 27, 2023