DETROIT (AP) — Now hiring in Detroit: Software developers and programmers.
General Motors is moving past layoffs and the Motor City's rusty, low-tech image. It's setting out on its own to develop software and invent the most advanced gizmos for your car.
America's biggest automaker plans to hire up to 10,000 computer professionals in the next three-to-five years as it tries to lead the auto industry with cutting-edge technology.
It's a bold and expensive move, counter to the industry's history of buying software and other electronic applications from outside companies. Experts say it's also the start of a trend as manufacturers realize that software is among the few things that will set them apart from competitors.
"The companies that build the software themselves in general are going to have an advantage," says David Kirkpatrick, author of a book about Facebook and CEO of Techonomy Media Inc., a New York firm that specializes in setting up technology conferences. "If you outsource the development of software in particular to others, you can risk ... your own ability to compete in the future."
General Motors Co. isn't alone in trying to move more technology development under its roof. But the plans of its biggest competitor, Ford Motor Co., aren't nearly as ambitious.
GM's aims to bring 90 percent of its computer technology work into the company by recruiting workers to four new information technology centers around the nation. Ford recently joined GM, BMW AG and Renault-Nissan in opening a technology office in California's Silicon Valley, although it's staffed by only about 15 people.
GM's first "Information Technology Innovation Center" was announced last month in Austin, Texas, with plans to hire 500 programmers and software experts. And Monday the carmaker unveiled plans to hire 1,500 more at a second computer center in Warren, Michigan, on the campus of its big tech center. GM already has product designers, engineers and other technical experts at the site, including the team that created the Chevrolet Volt electric car.
The other two sites haven't been revealed.
Staff at the centers will try to stay on top of software trends. They'll develop the latest ways to link smartphones with cars or control a vehicle's heating and air conditioning with voice commands. They'll also be counted on to invent technology that no one's thought of yet. And GM also sees long-term cost savings when the centers are fully in operation.
"We're currently seeking the next generation of game-changers to help us usher in a new age of automotive innovation," says GM Chief Information Officer Randy Mott, who was Hewlett-Packard's CIO until he joined GM in February.
Although there are shortages of programmers and software engineers in some parts of the country, GM should be able to recruit enough talent by setting up shop in four different regions, experts say. With the tech-hub of Austin and GM's home base in Detroit already covered, the most likely locations for the next two centers are on the West Coast, experts say.
GM says it will offer competitive wages and benefits to pull in recent college graduates and experienced information technology professionals. The company's iconic brand status will help attract people, experts say.
But offering competitive pay will cost GM. Software engineers make $60,000 to $70,000 a year right out of college, and experienced workers can make more, says James Stoeckmann, senior compensation specialist for World at Work, an organization of human resources executives who deal with pay issues.
Expensive or not, the strategy is correct for GM as it tries to differentiate its products from other automakers, says Michael Robinet, managing director of IHS Automotive, an industry consulting firm. With the gap in quality between brands shrinking, the way a car drives and its electronics soon will be the only things that set a company apart, he says.
Currently, GM and most automakers rely on outside companies for touch screen and other technology. But often those companies sell the technology to multiple carmakers, or new software is sold in an expensive bidding war, Robinet says.
"If they have their own skunk works and they find a new technology, they are guaranteed to bring it to market first," he says.
Ford, for instance, worked with Microsoft Inc. on its pioneering Sync system, which brought voice activation technology into cars ahead of most competitors. But Ford only had exclusive use of the system for a year before Microsoft was able to license it to other companies, namely Hyundai and Kia.
Outside companies have so much expertise that it will take years for GM to catch up, making it unlikely that the company will completely walk away from outside firms, Robinet says.
Yet with software gaining so much importance in the way all companies operate, it's even possible that GM will find its next generation of leaders somewhere in the computer centers, says Kirkpatrick.
"CEOs of every company in the future are going to have to be software thinkers," he says.
Google's Self-Driving Car
Google has transformed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/03/google-self-driving-car-demo_n_831175.html" target="_hplink">ordinary Toyota Priuses</a> into hands-free vehicles, each equipped with a rotating camera, sensors and more. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/03/google-self-driving-car-demo_n_831175.html" target="_hplink">According to the AP</a>, the four-wheeled fleet "can steer, stop and start without a human driver." These so-called self-driving cars handle themselves so well that one has even been used to take a blind man for a joy ride (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/29/google-self-driving-car-blind-man-taco-bell_n_1387930.html" target="_hplink">see video above</a>).
Terrafugia Transition - Flying Car
With its "Transition" car, Terrafugia proves that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/30/terrafugia-transition-fly_n_630578.html#s108243" target="_hplink">the future is finally here</a>. The operator of this amazing vehicle can drive it <em>and</em> fly it. The Transition has already been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in the skies and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/09/terrafugia-transition-flying-car_n_893402.html#s305568" target="_hplink">by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to drive on roads</a>. If you happen to have a driver's license, pilot license, and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/terrafugia-transition-test-flight_n_1399267.html" target="_hplink">$279,000</a>, this car might be the one for you. The Transition was slated for consumer release in late 2011, but that date has been delayed and no new date has been announced.
Moller M200G Hover Car
If you happen to be a fan of "The Jetsons," you're going to love this. For about $125,000, you can get your hands on your very own M200G Hover-Car, thanks to Moller International, <a href="http://gizmodo.com/280546/moller-m200g-hover+car-in-production-and-selling-for-125k" target="_hplink">reported Gizmodo way back in 2007</a>. While the M200G is pretty cool to look at (even if the photo is a little retro), a sleek flying car called the <a href="http://moller.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=50&Itemid=58" target="_hplink">M400 Skycar</a> may be the company's next project (though so far there's been no word on how it's coming along.)
This futuristic-looking "supercar," the <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/car/car.php" target="_hplink">Tramontana R</a>, is a product of European auto-maker <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/adtramontana/adtramontana.php" target="_hplink">a.d. Tramontana</a> and <a href="http://www.tramontanagroup.com/adtramontana/adtramontana.php" target="_hplink">features</a> a carbon fiber body, a max speed of more than 200 mph, and a V12 engine that produces a maximum horsepower of 720. Unfortunately, all of these awesome specs (and the fact that it looks almost as cool as the Batmobile) have landed the car with a ridiculous price tag. <a href="http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/24/car-cool-model-lifestyle-vehicles-car-cool_slide_10.html?thisSpeed=undefined" target="_hplink">According to Forbes</a>, it costs upwards of $511,126, and only 12 are released each year.
BMW ConnectedDrive Connect
BMW's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/26/bmw-self-driving-car_n_1234362.html" target="_hplink">ConnectedDrive Connect system</a> can be installed in current BMW models and allows the car to drive itself. While at the moment the system operates only on pre-mapped roads, further developments will allow the car to adapt and drive on any street.
Audi's 2012 "super-luxury" vehicle is hailed as a standout in its class. <a href="http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/Audi_A8/" target="_hplink">Writes U.S. News</a>, <blockquote>Test drivers say the A8's cabin is exceptionally crafted, and the standard MMI infotainment system now features Google Earth views on its navigation screen and available Wi-Fi connectivity, thanks to a SIM card in the A8's dash. Reviewers like the design and features inside the A8, but note that it packs less cargo space than many competing luxury sedans. Passenger space, on the other hand is ample. </blockquote> If it's anything like its predecessor, the Audi A7, which our own Jason Gilbert called a "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/16/2012-audi-a7-features_n_900788.html#s310151&title=Head_Up_Windshield" target="_hplink">tech-lover's dream</a>," the A8 is sure to win over drivers who have $75,704 to $130,192 laying around.
SARTRE And Volvo's Road Train
In partnership with the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) program, Volvo is testing the "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/22/sartre-road-train-platoon-car_n_811632.html#s227279" target="_hplink">road train</a>" system, in which a lead vehicle pilots a column of cars down highways. The head car controls the others via Wi-Fi, allowing the drivers to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. <a href="http://www.autoblog.com/2012/01/24/sartre-autonomous-road-train-enters-final-phase-with-trio-of-vol/" target="_hplink">According to Autoblog</a>, the system is entering its final phase of testing and should be able to accomodate six vehicles by the year's end. No firm release date has been set.
Similar to the Terrafugia Transition, the PAL-V (or Personal Air and Land Vehicle) was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/flying-car-unveiled-in-ho_n_1397882.html?1333399106" target="_hplink">developed in Holland </a> and can reach speeds of up to 110 mph. Watch the video above to learn more!
Flying Hybrid Car
Pretty soon there will be a <em>hybrid</em> flying car on the market, too. While this Burt Rutan model has yet to be approved for regular use on the road, it is fueled by both electric motors and gasoline engines, so, whether driving or flying, you're traveling a little greener than the rest. [Via <a href="http://www.wired.com/autopia/2011/07/burt-rutan-designs-hybrid-flying-car/" target="_hplink">Wired</a>]
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/19/new-delorean-electric-version_n_1019222.html" target="_hplink">In October of last year</a>, the DeLorean Motor Company, makers behind the iconic DMC-12, used as the time machine in <em>Back to the Future</em>, announced an all-electric model for, well, the future. <a href="http://delorean.com/content/news/electric/dmcevpr.pdf" target="_hplink">According to a press release</a>, the company paired up with Epic Electric Vehicles to bring this well-known car back to life and plans to market it in the States in 2013.
Mitsubishi's i-MiEV is a cleaner alternative to city driving. <a href="http://i.mitsubishicars.com/miev/features" target="_hplink">According to Mitsubishi's website</a>, the i-MiEV features a lithium-ion battery system along with its motor and other engine components, a seating capacity of four, and a max speed of about 80 miles per hour. This super-green vehicle <a href="http://www.mitsubishi-motors.com/special/ev/4innovations/index.html" target="_hplink">recently clinched the top spot</a> on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's (ACEEE) 14th annual Greenest Cars List for 2012.