Tesla and Nvidia ignite an automotive revolution

Posted by Rob Enderle

Most of you are probably like me, getting really annoyed when you buy a new car and discover it has a media system that is years behind current technology.  

I recall my most annoying moment a few years back when I was thinking about a new hot Ford and the latest version of Ford/Microsoft Sync - only to find out the most recent version wasn’t available in what I thought was the coolest Ford car at the time.

I ended up buying an Audi instead - but even Audi lost me to Jaguar when I had the same experience with the latest Audi TT. Only Tesla seemed to initially understand that folks wanted the latest technology in their car - and needed a way to upgrade said technology without having to buy a new car.  

Currently, Tesla is offering a comprehensive upgrade to early Tesla S buyers which upgrades not only the electronics but the engine and suspension to current specs.   Granted, it isn’t cheap but is a hell of a lot cheaper than a new car. Plus, I have little doubt that this kind of program will see Tesla buyers staying incredibly loyal to the brand.  

Nvidia

Now what you may not realize is that most of the cars with amazing internal displays from the McLaren and Lamborghini, to Audi and BMW, with Tesla as the poster child have Nvidia behind their solutions. This is why the displays are so amazing and, particularly with the Tesla, so big. With its latest processor (the Tegra K1), Nvidia  brought PC level performance to its solutions and, thanks to Tesla, and Audi’s aggressive use of this technology, car vendors are apparently flocking to the firm to get a piece of the action.

This week at Nvidia's developer conference I saw some of the amazing advancements they are bringing to the car industry this year. One of the most interesting was a new jeep in which Nvidia installed a Tesla-like system which resulted in the gauges in the primary cluster being configurable. If you’ve ever seen the amazing gauges in the Nissan GTR (which ironically I’m driving this week) they were designed from a video game and as amazing as that is, the Nvidia solution is as far beyond that as the iPhone was from the Palm Pilot. It is seriously fantastic. 

Perhaps most importantly, the core modules are upgradeable. Meaning, not only will new cars be load with the new technology, but buyers, for a fee, could upgrade their dash and AV system in the car without having to do a “pimp my ride” makeover or risking breaking something that can’t be fixed.  

I have a 2004 Jaguar I use as an AV technology showcase. I actually switch out its AV system annually, to do this I’ve had to make major changes to the dash and I still can’t do anything about the primary instruments. Though, I figure, if I whine enough I might be able to convince Nvidia to help me out.  (Here is a shot of the amazing gauge cluster in an Audi R8, wait till you see the new Audi TT). 

What Nvidia is driving and firms like Tesla, Audi, and BMW are implementing, could very well make our desire for an upgradeable AV and instrument system a reality and provide a much needed revenue boost for dealerships which would do the work. (There is some irony here because I have a friend who works for a huge Nvidia competitor who has a high end BMW and is pissed he can’t upgrade the car’s AV system). 

Wrapping Up: Your Next Car Could be Modular

Right now Tesla is the most aggressive with this modular approach to electronics and that shouldn’t be a surprise because they sell an electronic car. However, Audi, BMW and others are rapidly beginning to understand that buyers will likely prefer cars that not only come with more up to date electronics but are more customizable and upgradeable after the fact.

This applies to both new and used cars - providing not only a revenue benefit to dealers who supply the services but also to those who resell the brands with this capability.   Plus, increasing resale value makes leases cheaper resulting in more car sales. In the end, and I don’t think this is a stretch, the car companies that move aggressively to this new capability may be the ones left standing at the end of the decade, while the ones that don’t will have a lot of empathy for Studebaker and American Motors who didn’t make it to the end of the last century.  

So your next car may be nothing like your current car and the result might actually reach Steve Jobs’ concept of magical.