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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Creating the Cruise Origin

Jason Fischer, Executive Chief Engineer, Autonomous Vehicles, GM joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss the creation of the Cruise Origin and how GM is going to manufacturer and scale the Origin.

The conversation begins with Jason discussing how important the Cruise Origin is to GM’s autonomous vehicle plans.

The Cruise Origin is incredibly important to GM’s autonomous plans. We believe that at General Motors we’re pursuing what we believe is the most comprehensive path to autonomous mobility in the entire industry.

– Jason Fischer

As the Origin was developed the team took away a lot of learnings from the Bolt AV. The Bolt AV laid the foundation for GM to develop the Cruise Origin in a scaleable manner.

The Bolt AV really sets the foundation for us to be able to quickly put the Cruise Origin out in a scaleable manner. The Bolt AV is kind of our learning opportunity before we expand the Cruise Origin.

– Jason Fischer

In order to be able to scale, you have to have world-class manufacturing facilities and this is exactly what GM and Cruise are doing with the Origin. The Origin is being manufactured at the GM’s Factory ZERO plant in Detroit. Cruise is tapping into GM’s heritage of building world-class vehicles that are reliable and safe. This becomes a competitive advantage for Cruise as the company scales operations around the world.

GM has a 100 year history of making great products and you see them on the road every day. We haven’t wavered from that, especially from a safety perspective. We haven’t wavered from that when we bring these autonomous vehicles out.

– Jason Fischer

As Cruise prepares to deploy the Origins on public roads, one of the key ways that Cruise is going to be able to build and maintain trust with the public is GM. As the public will know that the vehicle was built by world-class engineers on an assembly line that prioritizes safety. Prior to deploying an Origin on public roads, the vehicle will go through the same safety validation that each and every GM vehicle goes through in addition to a complete system-wide software and sensor validation.

We’re not cutting any corners. That’s not the way GM does work. It’s always going to be safe deployment. It’s always going to be customer safety first.

– Jason Fischer

When a consumer first steps into the Cruise Origin it will be an inviting experience that welcomes you to walk into the vehicle. Through the use of light and color, Cruise has designed the vehicle in a manner that makes it easy to understand how to put your seat belt on and start the ride.

Inviting is really the word that I think of when I think of the Cruise Origin and how it’s going to interact with the customer.

– Jason Fischer

For the business of autonomous ride-sharing to truly operate at peak performance, up-time of the vehicle will be mission critical. Cruise has a developed an operating range metric which will allow operations to be opportunistic as when to charge the vehicle.

The autonomous vehicle industry can learn a lot from the airline industry and this exactly what Cruise is putting into practice by hiring airline executives to develop and implement the operations strategy. Very similar to fuselage that airlines use to move passengers around the world, GM developed the Cruise Origin to last for a long time.

Our strategy was, we want the body to last as long as it possibly can. Our body right now from a structural perspective will last over a million miles.

– Jason Fischer

GM has taken a very aggressive stance towards autonomy and embraced it throughout the entire company. It’s a strategy that has allowed Cruise to flourish and one that will allow Cruise to scale operations around the world.

Innovations come to GM to live.

– Jason Fischer

As we move into the future GM will keep innovating as the company is committed to introducing and deploying a personal-owned autonomous vehicle by the end of the decade.

Wrapping up the conversation, Jason shares his thoughts on the future of autonomous vehicles.

The future of autonomous is endless. We are just starting to scratch the surface.

– Jason Fischer

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Recorded on Tuesday, November 1, 2022

From Range Anxiety to Charging Anxiety

Russ Mitchell who covers the rapidly changing global auto industry, with special emphasis on California, including electric vehicles, driverless cars and vehicle safety at The Los Angeles Times once again joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss overcoming electric vehicle charging anxiety.

The conversation begins with Russ discussing how voters in California are leaning on Prop 30 which would raise taxes on California residents with an annual income over $2 million by 1.75% to a State Income tax of 15.05%. The ballot measure has significant backing from Lyft, as they contributed $45 million to influence voters to vote yes on Prop 30.

Lyft made the political contribution because the State of California is requiring 90% miles driven in rideshare vehicles to be electric by 2030.

As everybody knows, drivers aren’t employees, but contractors buy those cars. So they want to make it easier for their drivers to be able to buy an EV and be able to use the EV.

– Russ Mitchell

Lyft’s biggest competitor Uber, has not made a contribution or a public statement in regards to Prop 30. They have been silent. While Uber has been silent, Governor Newsom of California has been publicly questioning why Lyft is funding Prop 30 in TV ads and mailers.

Then there is the recent UC Berkley/LA Times poll which found that only 20% of California consumers plan to buy an electric car as their next vehicle. With 80% of consumers not planning to buy an EV as their next vehicle, Grayson and Russ discuss what will happen to rideshare prices and the 2035 mandate banning the sale of new gas-powered cars.

The law was passed, the arguments were made and it’s just expected to happen. It will be a political fight, both within bureaucracy and in the Legislature and in the Governor’s office to deal with it if it proves impossible.

– Russ Mitchell

If the ban is pushed back due to the fact that it turns out to be impossible, who is to blame and what will be the political blowback? Grayson and Russ discuss what it could look like from a political perspective.

With the State of California clearly moving towards an all-electric future, the demand for EV charging infrastructure is only going to grow. While the demand for charging infrastructure grows, the need to ensure that the chargers are reliable grows as well. Without a reliable charging network, consumers anxiety will only grow leading to decline in EV adoption.

The California Energy Commission is dolling out billions of dollars in funding to build out EV charging infrastructure with the requirement that EV chargers are functional at least 97% of the time. While 97% reliability sounds good in theory, however there is no standard to define what defines charger up-time.

The charger companies are coming up with all sorts of different formula that would in effect as a consumer coming up to a gas pump expecting that 97 times out of a 100 it would be working may not be anywhere close to that.

– Russ Mitchell

Without guaranteed up-time and reliability, consumers will begin to experience charging anxiety the same way they experienced range anxiety when electric vehicles were first introduced. On a recent trip down I-5 in California in a Ford F-150 Lighting, Russ experienced the California EV charging experience first-hand and it was not pretty.

At a charging stop along the route where only one charger was working, Russ spoke with a fellow traveler about charging and that individual said; “I do not have range anxiety, I have charger anxiety”. Charging anxiety is the new range anxiety. In order to usher in an all-electric future, the consumer has to trust the technology and the fueling mechanism the same way that the trust gas-powered car and the gas stations where they refuel.

The question is with so many problems, and with so many billions of dollars raining down is this going to be fixed? That is really an open question and the entire viability of the EV market is going to depend on the public charging situation and whether they can get it fixed.

– Russ Mitchell

This is where Tesla shines, Tesla owners trust when they pull into a Tesla Supercharger station the chargers are going to work. When compared to all other electric vehicles, Tesla has the most superior charging network as they developed it from the ground-up without relying on 3rd party charging partners.

In the future do other electric vehicle companies form a consortium to own and operate their own chargers that are reliable and meet up-time guarantees that consumers trust? It’s possible as EV manufacturers outside of Tesla still have to develop charging trust with their customers.

Wrapping up the conversation, Russ shares his opinion on what the future of energy looks like in California.

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Recorded on Thursday, October 27, 2022

Ushering in the Era of Autonomous Commerce

Rich Steiner, Head of Policy & Communications, Gatik joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss how Gatik is ushering in the era of autonomous commerce through policy innovations and partnerships.

The conversation begins with Rich discussing how Gatik approached the mid-term election from a policy perspective.

Gatik’s priorities at the Federal level will remain the same. There is a huge amount of work to be done at the Federal level to continue promoting our agenda and that of the broader AV trucking industry and the benefits that we can provide from an economic, safety, and societal perspective.

– Rich Steiner

On the State level, Gatik was able to successfully demonstrate the benefits of autonomous vehicles in support of SB313 in the Kansas State Legislature. When Governor Kelly signed the bill on May 13, 2002, autonomous vehicles were able to legally operate on public roads in the State. A successful triumph for the entire autonomous vehicle industry.

While the bill in Kansas was a triumph, there is an inconsistent policy approach to autonomous vehicles, as autonomous vehicles cannot legally operate in all 50 States. With Gatik currently operating in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana and Texas, Grayson asks Rich if a national autonomous vehicle framework is needed at this time to help Gatik scale its operations.

It’s a hugely important piece of the strategy.

– Rich Steiner

While a national autonomous vehicle framework is important, there has not been an overwhelming bipartisan support for a framework to date. The question is, how can we overcome this impasse to ensure that The United States continues to lead on the development and the deployment of autonomous vehicles? It could happen at the ballot box as consumers begin to reap the benefits of lower costs of goods and increased safety on the roadways and vote for politicians that want a national framework that benefits society.

Autonomy will benefit all aspects of society and autonomy will not just be constrained to the United States as Gatik has expanded to Toronto, Ontario, Canada where they have a partnership with Loblaw. Canada was chosen as the first international expansion for Gatik because of the tech ecosystem and talent pool in the province of Ontario.

The common denominator between Gatik’s operations in the United States and Canada are their world-class partnerships with big-box retailers. In the Canada there is Loblaw and in the United States there is Walmart. Both Loblaw and Walmart have experienced the supply chain crunch and the demand by customers to pick up their goods with-in an hour of ordering them online, creating stress on their current inventory systems. Gatik offered the right solution at the right time.

We presented a solution to the retail industry, e-commerce space at a time when they needed that solution and that’s why some of our partnerships came together so quickly.

– Rich Steiner

It’s a solution that is in use today in Arkansas as Gatik operates a fully autonomous 7.1 mile route from a Walmart dark store to a Walmart retail store on a daily basis.

It’s a seamless integrated efficient solution.

– Rich Steiner

Wrapping up the conversation, Rich shares his thoughts on the future of autonomy.

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Recorded on Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Scaling Public Electric Vehicle Charging with Ford

Matt Stover, Director of Charging & Energy Services, North America, Ford Motor Company joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss Ford’s strategy for public electric vehicle charging.

The conversation begins with Matt discussing the current state of public electric vehicle charging.

When we look at public charging right now, the industry is in its infancy. It’s been around for about 10 years, but the network growth I should say it’s a toddler going to early teen ages.

– Matt Stover

On a global basis less then 7% of vehicles on the road are electric vehicles, so we are still very early in the journey to an all-electric future. With the potential for electric vehicle adoption to grow, the charging infrastructure needs to grow to support the demand for EVs. As new charging infrastructure, it’s vitally important that the charges are up and operating in a fashion similar to a gas-station, to ensure consumer satisfaction with the EV experience.

When you look at charging we’re early in the development of the infrastructure, the way that the infrastructure develops is going to be different than what we think about with gas right now. Right now with gas we have a typical venue for filling up your vehicle at a gas station.

They all kind of look alike, there in similar types of places. Charging is going to be different from that. You are going to have charging on gasoline forecourts for sure. You are going to have charging in parking lots at your local retailer and you are going to have chargers at work.

– Matt Stover

When the EV charging infrastructure is up, running and reliable, range anxiety will begin to dissipate.

Once a customer starts to understand that there is infrastructure out in the market and in their daily life, they can get over the idea of the fear of range anxiety. Because the technology that we are putting into these vehicles is giving them that confidence that the vehicles can go a long distance on a particular charge.

– Matt Stover

One of key locations to deploying EV charging infrastructure are retail locations as consumers spend on average 30 to 60 minutes inside of a big-box retailer. During their time shopping, consumers will be able to charge their vehicles in a frictionless manner.

The thing that we will be really surprised by is where you end up seeing chargers and how you engage with those chargers from a transaction standpoint.

– Matt Stover

As builders develop new master-planned communities and multi-family residences, EV charging infrastructure will be built into the development from the initial planning stages. An example of a new community that was built from the ground-up for electric vehicles is Babcock Ranch in Punta Gorda, FL. While Babcock Ranch was built for EVs, a majority of pre-existing residential infrastructure currently does not support EV charging.

With a growing demand for electric vehicles and one-third of American’s currently living in a rental home in the United States, having access to EV charging at home will become a consumer differentiator. In the future renters could opt for a residence that has EV charging.

When you buy a house, having a charger in the house will be seen as an asset. And when you go rent a property and if there is charging that is there for you, you will perceive that as an asset, therefore pay more for that asset.

– Matt Stover

Since a majority of renters currently do not have access to EV charging at their residence, they have to rely on public charging infrastructure which tends to be unreliable. To address this issue, Ford has introduced the Ford Charge Angels program. Charge Angles actively monitor charger performance, communications, and billing protocols to ensure that chargers in the Ford BlueOval Charging Network are operating properly.

There needs to be an improvement in the reliability of the charging infrastructure.

– Matt Stover

The Ford BlueOval Charging Network is a network of networks.

What we have done is worked with our partners to create access for our Ford customers to the most AC and DC public chargers in North America.

– Matt Stover

In the network there are currently 75,000 EV chargers that allow EV drivers to charge without having to download multiple apps and create new accounts as it all runs through the FordPass app.

Wrapping up the conversation, Matt shares his thoughts on the future of EV charging.

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Recorded on Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Geopolitics of the Electric Vehicle Supply Chain

Henry Sanderson, Author, Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green joined Grayson Brulte on The Road to Autonomy Podcast to discuss the geopolitics of the electric vehicle supply chain and his book.

The conversation begins with Henry discussing why he wrote the book.

I really wanted to capture the idea that the energy transition, the move to clean energy wasn’t as simple as putting up some solar panels or wind turbines or swapping your just swapping car for electric. It actually involves a creation of whole new supply chains and opening people’s eyes to what this means.

– Henry Sanderson

The electric vehicle supply chain is fragile and comprised of geopolitics. When global carmakers first started to prepare for their supply chains for electric vehicles, they were caught flat footed when they entered the world of commodity trading.

In the book, Henry documents a meeting between executives at VW and a group of global cobalt traders where VW demanded a discount because they are VW. There was no discount, no cobalt sold and VW learned a hard lesson, they could no longer dictate pricing.

They thought of batteries and other things as commodities that they as big car makers could just buy and the suppliers would come running to be part of the VW supply chain.

– Henry Sanderson

With the growth of electric vehicles, new suppliers are coming online to meet the global demand. Sony which first commercialized the lithium-ion battery in 1991 could be entering the EV battery space as they look to commercialize their VISION-S EV. In South Korea, LG Chem and SK Innovation continue to invest in producing electric vehicle batteries. Then there is China which for all practical purposes controls the global EV supply chain.

It’s all part of making the world safe for China’s rise and knitting countries together into a sort of China, new China world order.

– Henry Sanderson

In 2013, President Xi of China gave a series of strategic speeches as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative that were made in locations that possess the rich minerals needed for electric vehicles. As part of those speeches, China announced strategic investments in those countries. While the investments were not specifically targeted at electric vehicles, they indeed had a strategic purpose.

If China takes aggressive action towards Taiwan, the likelihood of the country becoming isolated from global trade is highly likely. Grayson and Henry discuss what the impact would be on China economically and the clean energy supply chain.

It’s amazing when you get into the nuts and bolts of it how integrated China is into the global economy and especially in clean energy where you got 80% of the solar supply chain, 90% of rare earth magnets, 80% of lithium-ion batteries, processing of almost all of these minerals in China.

– Henry Sanderson

When it comes to the EV supply chain, China is operating a strategic advantage. In the private sector, Glencore is operating at a strategic advantage because of their cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While Glencore has a strategic advantage, the company is not without its own controversies.

The DRC is one of those countries that I think wants to benefit from the energy transition, and when you think of developing countries being victims of climate change, we need to help them, we need to step in.

– Henry Sanderson

In Indonesia runoff from the nickel mines are polluting the ocean and damaging the country’s coral reefs. As negative environmental impacts come to light along along with human rights abuses, consumers will start to demand transparency in the supply chain.

In this whole transition the opportunity for innovation is huge and it’s not beyond our wits as man to solve some of these issues. You are exactly right, consumer pressure as we have seen in cobalt can actually really play a big part.

– Henry Sanderson

While consumers demand transparency, Governments around the world are working on ways to diversify away from China for the EV supply chain. This change is being driven partly by the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the country is looking to possibly bring the Cornwall lithium mines online one again. The global trend of diversify away from China will only continue as the electric vehicle industry continues to grow and prosper.

Wrapping up the conversation, Henry shares his opinion on how he sees the global electric vehicle supply chain evolving in the coming years.

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Recorded on Monday, October 17, 2022