We read an interesting report in Automotive News recently about how Israel is becoming another centre for automotive technology. In fact it has been a slow burn country for vehicle development. Motoring Weekly has written about Better Place that moved to Israel from Silicon Valley before collapsing in a heap.
Back in 2008, the original version of General Motors opened a technical centre that survived the reorganisation and recovery from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Now that centre is leading a new flood of technological centres and skills. Ford has recently opened their own research and development centre after having invested in a local computer vision company and BMW, Hyundai and others have also chosen Israel to be a location for their technical centres.
In some respects, Israel is a good spot geographically, thanks to being in between the US and Asia which helps with timezone issues. However, more likely is the ability of the Israeli universities to pump out highly skilled graduates and also for engineers to return home after a tour of duty in Detroit or Northern California. Importantly, the technologies developed in Israel have come from another background – radar, LIDAR and security technologies have deep roots in military development.
With that background, it was logical for commercialisation to take place and with the growth in desire for autonomous vehicles, these technologies have come to the fore and Israeli engineers are highly sought after not only for their technical skills but their risk appetite is higher than others, so they are more willing to give something a go and not worry if it fails! Perhaps that is a byproduct of having compulsory military service.
Mobility startups are the flavour of the month at the moment, with nearly 650 startups in that space and investment reaching $6b in the last six years, they now account for 10% of all startups registered. This is one reason that Ford and General Motors have set up shop in the country, both of them need to catch up with Uber, Waymo and other smaller, more nimble competitors.
To make it harder for the automotive companies to find talent, they are up against the big tech players such as Microsoft and Apple who are also hiring new engineers. There has been talk for a while that Apple has technology that extends to the automotive space and Israel is a great place to keep things under wraps until it gets a global launch.
One thing to note is that Detroit might still be the headquarters of GM, Ford and Chrysler, however they have had to spread far and wide with centres in Silicon Valley and in Israel to maximise the access to more skills. Israel has had a long history in the automotive industry and like many markets, was started with complete knock-down (CKD) kits being assembled locally, however there is always someone who feels they can do it better and Motoring Weekly has written about the Sabra that was a joint venture between an Israeli company and Reliant.
In the future, it is highly likely that every new autonomous vehicle will have technology developed in Israel, so their wheel of automotive industry will have turned full circle!