BMW: Join autonomous group now

FRANKFURT — BMW AG has imposed a year-end deadline for potential industry partners to join the autonomous vehicle alliance it leads together with suppliers Intel Corp. and Mobileye NV. It believes more carmakers will follow Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in joining.

The German automaker aims to develop a scalable Level 5 self-driving system for its upcoming iNEXT model and then work backward to an easier configuration by subtracting complexity. It’s meant to ensure the company can respond flexibly to different regulatory environments.

“Other OEMs — whether they are capable of designing it on their own or need it as a customer — have to decide in the next couple of years which train they want to board. There will certainly be very many carmakers that dock onto some sort of cooperation because the expense involved is very high,” said Klaus Froehlich, head of r&d. After roughly nine months of defining the management team, strategy and technical concept, Froehlich said, the company is on the hunt for partners, especially those that can bring geographical balance. He expects only one more Tier 1 partner — Continental and Delphi already are in — to limit organizational complexity, but he thinks there is room for more than one carmaker to join.

“All those that knock on our door in 2018 would be able to acquire the system [as a customer], but they cannot make an engineering contribution,” he said. New members would be included only if they were to develop specific applications such as a robo-taxi fleet.