BMW is gearing up for a huge milestone: Its 100th birthday. But the automaker isn’t looking back, instead it’s looking into the future.
This week, BMW’s board member for research and development outlined a new technology plan as it turns its focus from the “ultimate driving machine” to the “ultimate self-driving machine”.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that BMW is going to gear up to go into competition with driverless car competitors such as Google. To that end, it’s going to make half of its R&D staff computer programmers, up from 20 percent of its 30,000 force R&D team.
“If I need to get a ratio of 50:50 within five years, I need to get manpower equivalent to another 15,000 to 20,000 people from partnerships with suppliers and elsewhere,” says Klaus Froehlich, BWM Board of Management Member, as reported by Reuters.
Froehlich also notes a lack in the supply of tech engineer graduates from German schools. This means that BMW will have to do some out of house hiring. (Hint: College kids, time to change your major. BMW recently hired a 200-strong digital innovation team in Chicago.)
The other goal is to use more in-house technology to help expand overall business and spur hybrid vehicle development For example, BMW can license any new hybrid software it creates, which will help speed up innovation industry-wide. Froehlich notes, “Going forward we will sell electric drivetrains. We see many smaller manufacturers who cannot afford to develop a plug-in hybrid.”
The bottom line here seems to be that the driving force for BWM is to avoid becoming the brawn behind the brains of the likes of Silicon Valley. It wants the brains, too, so it can maintain its independence to build vehicles from start to finish.
“For me it is a core competence to have the most intelligent car. We have some catching up to do in the area of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Our task is to preserve our business model without surrendering it to an internet player. Otherwise we will end up as the Foxconn for a company like Apple, delivering only metal bodies for them,” says Froehlich.
Some of the specific areas that the company is looking to expand in are cloud computing, data storage, and remote software access tech.
“The thinking here is: they, too, have weaknesses and there may be some win-win situations. Nonetheless, I need to build our own in-house competence in the next 5 to 6 years,” said Froehlich.
2020 is right about the time many automakers expect to be ready with self-driving cars, at least on a small scale.
BMW celebrates its 100th birthday on Monday, March 7th.