ExxonMobil to Play Big Role in the Connected Future of Autonomous Vehicles

I spent last week in Vegas for CES and was there specifically for the emphasis on Autonomous Vehicles (AV).  There were tons of representatives from car companies, the media; all the usual players.  To my surprise, next to me sat a man named Roland DeSantis, whose nametag indicated that he works for ExxonMobil (EM).  I was a bit surprised that EM has an interest in the automotive market, since all indicators so far are that AVs will be electric vehicles (EV).  So I asked if we could chat about EM’s interest in the AV/EV market.  He agreed to speak to me on the condition that I not record or take notes.

He explained that EM’s interest in the AV/EV market is in the fact that they will all be built for connected vehicle (CV) capabilities. EM is a major developer of engine oils and thus helps design the sensors that measure engine performance.  As we move to a future in which more vehicles are connected, EM envisions a growing business in offering real-time engine diagnostic.  Offering remote diagnostics to individual car owners may or may not be in EM’s future, but the move to shared mobility is expected to drive fleet ownership.  Offering remote diagnostic services for fleets looks to be a significant business opportunity for EM in the future.

Uber and Google are developing their own AVs, but all of the large auto makers are moving to deploy partially or fully-owned fleets of their own.  Ford supplies cars to ZipCar, Daimler through Car2Go, BMW through ReachNow and GM is developing an AV fleet for Lyft.

The oils that lubricate engine parts won’t go away if vehicles go entirely electric.  Moving parts will always need to be lubricated.  He brought up example of mechanical arms on the outside of the international space station.  Joints have to be completely sealed and filled with oils that won’t freeze and prevent metal on metal friction.  There is too much risk in having astronauts fix mechanical failures outside the ship.

Then he gave the example of the Hoover dam, which has turbines that have not stopped running in over 75 years.  Those engines can’t stop of the power goes off.  EM has a large portfolio of clients like Hoover Dam and NASA and treats the oils lubricating those mechanical parts the way a doctor treats blood.  They draw oils from large turbines monthly and run chemical analysis in order to assess engine health.

Since his job is to evaluate new technologies for implementation, he gave the technology progression for reporting the results of those analyses.  EM used to send to send the results back by mail, then upgraded to fax, and then upgraded to emailing reports.  Now, their clients can pull aggregate data from all other clients and compare.  EM can tell a client with a 25 year-old turbine how the health of their turbine compares to all others at that age.

Along with that, EM is already moving to offer mobile services to individual consumers through SpeedPass, which enables users to pay for gas through an app on the dashboard.  Drivers will still have to get out to pump the gas, but can minimize the time they spend outside of their car and won’t have to take gloves off.

Green technology enthusiasts have been clamoring for a gasoline-free automotive future, but what I learned this week at CES makes it clear that EM, and probably all the other major oil companies, looks to play a major behind-the-scenes role in an autonomous future.

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