There is a race between car makers to see who can come up with the smartest car first and up until recently Tesla was way ahead and US car makers—particularly Ford—were way behind. Well, that may have just changed this week when Ford doubled down (hell, tripled down) on their strategic relationship with BlackBerry and massively increased their investment in the collaboration—assuring that Ford’s next generation of vehicles can advance far more quickly than their last.
At the heart of this is QNX, the automotive operating system that currently dominates the automotive and nuclear power plant markets.
Let’s talk about that this week.
Tesla vs. Everyone Else
The reason Tesla is so far ahead of every other car company in the race to a smarter car is they started out with this in mind. They had none of the legacy thinking that plague the other firms and basically designed Tesla much like Steve Jobs redesigned Apple—except rather than picking Sony they picked Apple as the template.
The end result is a car line that, for good or ill, has far more similarities to an iPhone line than it has with other cars in terms of how they are built, provisioned, sold, and serviced. In effect, buying and owning a Tesla feels a lot more like buying and owning a iPhone than a Ford. At least right now.
This was showcased by the hundreds of thousands of people that pre-ordered the new Tesla Model 3 over a year before the car was ever expected to go into production and everyone new that this car would likely arrive late. This is unprecedented in the car industry but lines for products are a way of life in the Apple iPhone world.
Part of this is that the Tesla is basically a rolling tablet computer with modular hardware and a connected experience that other car makers can envy but have had problems emulating.
BlackBerry + Ford
But Tesla isn’t really a computer company. BlackBerry is—and they have been in the computing and communications area thanks to their phones and QNX division far longer than Tesla has been around. In addition, thanks to their nuclear plant customers and traditional enterprise focus, they have been far more focused on security than any car company, including Tesla, has been.
This means that the 400 or so engineers that Ford is getting may be far further along, in concept, to this future idea of rolling ever more intelligent cars than even Tesla is and could help Ford leapfrog Tesla by the end of the decade.
This influx of talent isn’t just about helping Ford with the software either because the BlackBerry engineers would have been intimate with other aspects of building and, more importantly, securing computing devices. This should include the importance of higher modulatory in not only core components but in subsystems—and help Ford anticipate where Tesla will likely go, helping Ford get there first.
Security is also likely to become a competitive differentiator, particularly as we move to autonomous cars. Nobody wants a teenager to take their car on a destructive joyride today and, with connected autonomous cars, there is a very real possibility that future joyride takers could be in Eastern Europe and doing that destructive driving from their bedrooms while their parents are sleeping. The very advanced security technology and background BlackBerry will provide should go a long way towards ensuring that if these remote-controlled joyrides are done they won’t be done with Ford cars.
Ford is clearly recognizing they are not only in a fight for market leadership but that as cars move to become more like rolling computers they are in a fight for survival. They’ve picked BlackBerry—arguably the most experienced and secure platform vendor in the segment—to both improve their competitive position and better assure their survival. This one move should go a long way towards doing both if the new BlackBerry folks are allowed to execute and can get around the roadblocks the traditional Ford engineers may put in their way. With the future of the company on the line, let’s hope that Ford can continue to promote a policy of effective change because the future of Ford is on the line with this one.
Overall this is an excellent move by the company but it will still come down to execution to get the full benefit from it.