Continental AG Working on Self-Driving Partnerships to Rival BMW

  • Pilots with US, European carmakers could be formalized in 2016
  • Continental CFO sees opportunity to work on Tesla camera

Continental AG is working with U.S. and European carmakers on self-driving car projects that could compete with the coalition between BMW AG, camera-software company Mobileye NV and chipmaker Intel Corp.

The pilot projects could be formalized into fully-fledged partnerships as early as this year, Continental Chief Financial Officer Wolfgang Schaefer said Wednesday. Europe’s second-biggest car parts supplier, the German company offers laser and infrared technology and competes with Mobileye on the cameras and software needed for driver-assistance systems.

Continental’s potential partnerships show the rivalries emerging as companies jockey for position in the emerging field of autonomous vehicles, reluctant to allow BMW’s coalition to establish the industry standard. BMW, Mobileye and Intel said their platform will be open to other carmakers and technology companies to use, which would boost their influence as cars able to steer themselves revolutionize how money is made in the auto industry.

“We’re part of four or five pilot projects with European and American carmakers that are pursuing a very similar direction” as that of BMW with Mobileye, Schaefer said in a phone interview. “Whether these will become formal cooperations I expect to become clear during the course of this year.”

Early-Stage Projects

Continental’s early-stage projects explore how to collect, analyze and feed back data to self-driving cars to help them recognize their environment and react correctly. The company isn’t part of BMW’s self-driving platform plans, Schaefer said.

BMW pledged last month to bring a car capable of piloting itself to the road by 2021, becoming the first major automaker to set a specific date and putting pressure on rivals. Daimler AG, with its luxury division Mercedes-Benz, Uber Technologies Inc. and Google are among the competitors in the race to develop self-driving vehicles.  

Separately, Schaefer said Continental sees an opportunity to start working with Tesla Motors Inc. after the U.S. carmaker’s cooperation with Mobileye ends. Mobileye supplied cameras and technology for Tesla’s Model S sedans, including for the Autopilot driver-assistance function at the center of a debate after a fatal crash. Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said last month that Mobileye’s agreements with other automakers mean it can’t keep up with Tesla’s pace of development.

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