SAN JOSE – Silicon Valley is becoming the next Detroit, but Detroit is by no means asleep at the wheel these days when it comes to connected, green vehicles.
“There are a lot of hybrids and electric vehicles in the works now,” said Mark Platshon, an automotive industry veteran and senior advisor to BMWs i-Ventures corporate venture capital group, speaking at an event here.
“The car industry is really good at being a fast follower--they won’t let another Tesla come out of nowhere and surprise them,” said Platshon, an early investor in the Palo Alto, Calif.-based electric vehicle startup.
Silicon Valley is already in the diamond lane of automotive innovation.
“There are hundreds of startups here either specifically about automotive or generally about the ecosystem of EVs,” said Platshon. “Today a lot of the innovation is centered on computers, networking and the Internet and a lot of that is centered here,” he said.
For VCs like Platshon one hot investment area is infotainment, “making a much smarter dashboard, putting Pandora in the car and integrating safety systems,” he said.
Tomorrow’s cars “should figure out what I need in parking and a restaurant--the car will talk to the road and cars will talk to each other,” he said.
Social networking concepts also are big in automotive venture investments these days, including the “Park At My House” Web site that quickly garnered 40,000 participants in London and will launch in the U.S. soon, Platshon said.
On the hardware front “there’s an enormous amount of money going into next generation batteries,” he said. “But it’s a dangerous stuff, as A123 has learned, it has been a bloody mess and it takes balls to invest in that space,” he added.
Corporate groups are pumping life into venture capital at a time when traditional VCs are more constrained, looking at the full spectrum of early to late stage deals, he said. Given its recent acquisitions, “the opportunity for BMW is we could design mobility systems that go all the way from scooters and motorcycles to Minis and mainstream BMW cars,” he said.
BMW advisor Platshon says new manganese materials look very promising for utility-scale batteries.