Honda Lauds Tesla, Outsiders, Says Industry Should Meet Silicon Valley Challenge

DETROIT – A Honda senior executive closes out the 2015 SAE World Congress here with a speech that lauds auto-industry outsiders such as electric-vehicle-maker Tesla, but calls on the traditional industry players to meet Silicon Valley’s challenge.

“We can argue about the long-term viability of Tesla’s business model…but no one can argue against the fact that the Model S is a very exciting, even revolutionary product,” says Frank Paluch, president-Honda R&D Americas.

But while he says Tesla, Google and other “disruptive outsiders” are a good thing, creating a “volatile marketplace of ideas and free-flowing capital,” the belief no good ideas are coming from traditional automotive areas of the U.S. Midwest, Germany or Japan is misguided.

“All engineers are equal in the presence of technology,” Paluch says, quoting Honda founder Soichiro Honda. “As engineers and leaders of our industry, we should be motivated by these ideas, and we should respect them. But I’d also like to believe we can do even better.”

Paluch details several aspects of Honda’s vision for future mobility, including an idea that one-ups Tesla founder Elon Musk’s hyperloop concept of a train traveling in a vacuum tube from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than an hour.

“That’s a pretty big idea, but here’s one that I think is even better, because it’s centered on the human desire for personal mobility: How about a dedicated lane on the I-5 for highly automated, connected vehicles, using swarm technology to travel at speeds upwards of 186 mph (300 km/h)?” Paluch asks.

While it would take longer to get from L.A. to San Francisco, but still less than two hours, Honda’s proposal would eliminate a drive to the train station, adhering to a service provider’s schedule and allow someone to ride in a vehicle of their choosing.

Paluch says the idea could be taken even further, expanded to all California interstates and in conjunction with what he calls super-connected cars and infrastructure, giving drivers an “effective commuting radius of maybe 100 miles (161 km) to get to work each day.

A person’s vehicle theoretically would be connected to their smartphone and smart home, and vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-to-pedestrian and vehicle-to-motorcycle communication networks would eliminate traffic, and the possibility of collisions, while improving fuel efficiency.

“In this scenario, your car has become part of a transformed mobility experience, one cell in a national high-speed hyperloop,” Paluch says.

As part of the old automotive guard, Honda’s future-transportation scenario is to be enjoyed, as a driver can turn off autopilot and leave his intended course to joyride on country or coastal roads, Paluch says.

While Honda already is testing automated and connected-vehicle technology, including at a closed naval weapons station near Silicon Valley, Paluch says the automaker can’t do it alone. He calls on industry leaders and policymakers in the room to help bring this idea to fruition via such things as standardized protocols for vehicle charging, a secure V2V information exchange with the dedicated bandwidth to support it and the establishment of a regulatory structure for a connected-car society.

“This is powerful and challenging stuff, and it’s just one possible vector for the future,” he says. “But our industry must lead the creation of change for future mobility, with our ideas and our crazy dreams, realizing the next level of value to society is no longer as simple as putting…an iPad in the dashboard.”

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