The US Thanksgiving holiday always a slow news period. There were some amusing developments in the Tesla saga, and a trade show led to a fair bit of coverage regarding self-driving vehicles. Uber was in the news as it was banned from Nevada and rumors emerged of a potential financing at a staggering valuation.
Even though “Black Friday” made headlines, don’t expect a lot of upside in terms of profits for tech or CE companies: most markets are mature, pricing is coming down, and margins are collapsing. This should have a significant impact on suppliers as well.
About 25 years ago I designed the software for a digital tax-dispatch system, and a few years after that developed, with my good friend Allan Brown, the hardware and software for a dispatch system which was still in use, at least in New York City, a few years ago. Essentially we had to develop, from scratch, all of the technologies which come on even the cheapest smartphone today. All this is to say that there is nothing particularly complicated or difficult in developing a car dispatch system as T-Dispatch, and dozens of other Uber clones are demonstrating. It makes you wonder about if the valuation being placed on the likes of Uber show the sort of disconnect from reality that Pets.com and other dot com flame-outs demonstrated. Its just a bloody dispatch system.
“While Uber and taxi companies are fighting over different regulations in court in pretty much every city out there, Berlin-based T-Dispatch found a solution that could solve part of the problem — and quietly raised 1 million euros. The problem taxi companies face with Uber is not only the price and the new competition but also the technology. While Uber operates through a simple app, taxi companies receive calls and requests through their own websites and have a hard time organizing fleets, as they do not know if a driver is available or who might be booked with other services such as mytaxi. Also, cab drivers pay up to 15 percent of their fare price when accepting a mytaxi request.”
We continue to believe Solid State Drives (SSDs) will substantially replace Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) and they are superior in all respects except price per bit. When analyzing the purported limitations of SSDs, including pricing, it is important to understand that NAND has only been used for mass storage for a relatively short time. Unfortunately, this article does not address pricing, which is more of an issue at this time than multi-terabyte capacity. Nonetheless, we expect pricing to follow a typical Moore’s Law curve. One threat to NAND, albeit a few years out, is commercialization of HP’s memristor technology, which has the potential to disrupt the space.
“At present solid-state drives with extreme capacities are very expensive and even the best of them cannot match high-capacity hard disk drives for nearline storage applications. However, thanks to the evolution of NAND flash memory in general, and 3D vertical NAND (3D V-NAND) in particular, the situation may change soon and SSDs with 10TB or higher capacities will become reality. Intel Corp. revealed at its Investor Meeting 2014 event this week that in the second half of 2015 its joint venture with Micron Technology – Intel Micron Flash Technologies (IMFT) – will start mass production of 3D vertical NAND flash memory chips with up to 256Gb (multi-level cell, 2-bit-per cell) or 384Gb (triple-level cell, 3-bit-per cell) capacity. 3D V-NAND flash memory chips will feature 32-layer vertically stacked cell arrays that are “interconnected” using four billion through silicon vias (TSVs).”
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I believe the idea that people will willingly abandon driving once they have become convinced of the reliability of self-driving cars. Furthermore, I also believe that usage of cars will tend towards a rental or taxi like system, especially in urban areas where parking is scarce. This will require a far more reliable vehicle than those which exist today, since rental vehicles will be in almost constant use and travel far more kilometers per year than the average car currently does. Of course, there are people who will still prefer to drive, just as there are people who like to ride horses today, but I doubt this will represent more than a small minority of consumers.
“A glimpse of the coming revolution can be seen in the models debuting this week at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Hidden under their hoods and dashboards are sensors that take the first steps toward autonomous driving. Already, cars can park themselves, slam on the brakes to avoid crashes and adjust steering to stay centered in a lane. But the disruption will go well beyond who is — or isn’t — at the controls. For a century, cars have been symbols of freedom and status. Passengers of the future may well view vehicles as just another form of public transportation, to be purchased by the trip or in a subscription.”
Tesla is endlessly fascinating to me: a large cap stock where observable reality is starkly at odds with Wall Street research. Take, for example, the easily verifiable poor reliability record of the Model S, which has been articulated by Edmunds, Motor Trend, and Consumer Reports as well as numerous posts on Tesla’s own website (see http://www.teslamotors.com/forum/forums/anyone-else-all-issues). If you want to know more, Google “Tesla drive unit failures” or “Tesla reliability” for endless reading. Whatever happens, a “tweet” by the CEO is all it takes for Wall Street – and investors – to ignore reality (“these aren’t the droids you’re looking for …”). Take this debacle, for example. (Longer articles are available in Norwegian). The “drive unit failure” problem was previously dismissed as a small issue corrected with a shim, however, somehow 1,100 units need to be replaced in Norway. Perhaps they forgot to tell the shop floor about the shims. It doesn’t matter really – lousy engineering is the least of an EV problems: short-lived, and spectacularly expensive batteries are.
“According to a recent report, the American automaker is replacing 1,100 defective drive units on Model S sedans produced for Norway after several owners reported issues with the vehicles. Some owners stated that their vehicles made circular saw sounds or clunking noises and sensations. Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent an email out to the affected owners in Norway saying, “Unfortunately, this happened when a large batch of cars were produced for Norway, affecting approximately 1,100 vehicles. Approximately 1% have experienced premature wear out of the coupling.””