Electromobility is one of the new playgrounds for innovative companies. A sector that could encourage the emergence of giants of a new kind.
From Hewlett-Packard to Google to Apple, legend has it that the biggest tech companies were born in a garage, often with barely more than a dollar in their pocket. If the allegory of the garage is not foreign to the world of the automobile, the parallel stops here, because the investments today are much more consequent, and it would not occur to anyone to launch a new Ford. with pieces of string from the bottom of the parental shed.
That said, if history doesn’t repeat itself, it does stutter at times, and there are a few signs that the ongoing electric car saga could in turn produce giants that may not even exist yet. time we write these lines. And, contrary to what we experienced with the GAFAMs, it could also be that these future giants are not American. Or, in any case, not only.
The “GAFAMs of electromobility” may be European
Because, whether in the field of the electric car or in related sectors, the USA is no longer alone on the market as it could have been – and still is – in the field of computing, internet and digital technologies. We are of course thinking of China, which in terms of production, seems to be leading the way, whether in the plethora of its automotive brands or that of batteries and their components. But Europe, with a long and solid automotive tradition, is not to be outdone, positioning itself more in innovation and services. A Europe that is advancing at a forced pace towards all-electricity thanks to environmental commitments that could give it a decisive advantage, if we consider regulatory constraints as a stimulator of creativity, and therefore innovation (yes, yes, it there is a debate on this point, and it will not be settled here).
So of course, when we talk about GAFAM and transpose the concept to the electric car sector, the first name that comes to mind is American, and yes it is Tesla. Indeed, the Texan manufacturer of Californian origin ticks almost all the boxes of the tech giant: abysmal losses at the start then meteoric growth, innovation, management of (big) data, and direct relationship with the customer via a tool technological, the car – connected, it goes without saying – here replacing the smartphone or the computer.
But other players are trying to get their feet wet, and are developing very quickly by relying on the same ingredients that have made GAFAM successful: agility, innovation and of course a solid financial base made up of equity ( a little) and fundraising (a lot). We first think of charging operators who are a bit to electromobility what ISPs or data centers are to the Internet: network infrastructures that allow access to content (the road). Thus, in this sector, the race is finally definitely launched, with here players who mark their territory with big fundraising moves. This is the case of Ionity (700 million recently from Blackrock) but also Power Dot (150 million), Fastned (150 million) or Electra (15 million and a next round to come). Other players are in the running, more discreet, perhaps a little less rich, but who will probably weigh in the game over the years to come, whether they are operators or evolve in sectors close to the electromobility, such as applications (ABRP, Chargemap, Plugshare, Nabla Connect, etc.), innovative services (Dreev, Yespark ReCharge, Clem, etc.) or smart charging devices (Sparklin, etc.).
A market that offers another similarity to the digital market, that of being supported by an ecosystem made up of business angelsventure capital companies (Serena, for example, was part of Electra’s funding round) and even specialized incubators such as AVERE France and its Advenir program.
And innovation in all this?
If all electric cars are similar in their design and the functionalities offered, like digital, it is in the sharp management of the data that the difference will be made, whether it is about the knowledge of the driver and of its behavior (and therefore of its expectations) or of the artificial intelligence which governs that of the car and the management of the batteries. It could be that from this point of view, the automotive industry today needs more data scientists than mechanics. In these areas, China (and its dozens of manufacturers) and Silicon Valley still seem to be a step ahead, but Europe, with its historical players, has not said its last word, whether it be Mercedes with its autonomy record or Audi and Porsche with their 800 Volt architecture allowing the fastest charging speeds in the world on production vehicles.
We know, however, that when we talk about GAFAM (or GAFA), it is rarely in laudatory terms, and that criticism is not far off. They are often criticized for their stranglehold on data, their intrusive tracing and bias. Without counting the lawsuit which is made to them regularly on their capacity to influence the life of the city, until modifying the results of the elections. Will it be the same with the giants born of high automotive technology? Hard to say. Some clues, however, suggest what could be a Big Brother in automobile sauce, such as Tesla’s already controversial Safety Score, which could influence insurance rates. Not to mention this black box story that could appear in cars. In short, in terms of data and their use, current cars, equipped with dozens of sensors, constitute an almost inexhaustible gold mine.
Data, innovation, cutting-edge technologies… Slightly hazy concepts for the privileged with a well-stocked wallet? Not so sure. The history of the automobile has shown over the last few decades that innovation, initially reserved for the top of the range, always ends up trickling down to the entire sector, right up to the entry level. The same will probably be true in the electric car sector.
It remains to know about the future Google or Meta of the sector already exists. And if his garage is located in Asia, America or Europe. And above all, what breakthrough innovation(s) it will offer…