Renault and Nissan, part of one of the world’s leading automotive alliances, on Monday inaugurated an open innovation lab in Tel Aviv that will work together with Israeli startups to test their technologies in a bid to tap into the next big thing of automotive industry.
The lab was set up in partnership with the Israel Innovation Authority, which sets out the government’s policies for the tech industry.
The Alliance Innovation Lab Tel Aviv, in the Atidim industrial park, will focus on collaborating with startups focused on sensors for autonomous driving, cybersecurity, and big data, as well as any startup that believes it has a game-changing technology for the industry, the Alliance chiefs said on Monday. Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi have set up one of the leading automotive alliances in the world. The Israeli lab will be operated and run solely by Renault and Nissan, however.
The automotive industry is undergoing “big disruption” with regard to electronics advances, the use of artificial intelligence, and the internet, said Gaspar Gascon Abellan, deputy executive vice president of the Alliance, at a press conference at the sidelines of the event. Israel is seeing many startups operating in these areas, he said, spurring Alliance to set up the open innovation lab, its third globally, in Israel.
“You cannot predict what is going to come up, but probably very brilliant and good things” from the intersection of all of these technologies,” Gascon Abellan said.
“It is important” for the alliance “to be in Israel. You have to keep awake because things are going much faster, and if you ignore some fundamental change, some fundamental idea, you can really pass by the future of the business. It is key to be where things are happening.”
The Alliance also set up open innovation labs in Silicon Valley and in Shanghai, China.
“Tech can create a lot of innovation and opportunities,” said Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, Alliance executive vice president of engineering at the event. “But no single company can do everything by themselves, and that is why we are here today.”
Israel has in recent years become a center for automotive innovation — even if it has no car manufacturing activities to speak of.
Its foray into the field started with the electric car company Better Place, which in spite of its high-profile bankruptcy in May 2013 is credited with putting Israel’s automotive tech scene on the map. Google bought the Ra’anana-based mapping company Waze for a reported $1 billion in 2013. And in 2017, Intel acquired the self-driving car technology powerhouse Mobileye, located in Jerusalem, for a whopping $15.3 billion. BMW, Ford, General, Honda, Motors, Uber, Volkswagen and Volvo have been investing in Israeli technology since 2016.
Later this week, Ford is set to open a new innovation center in Tel Aviv. Bill Ford, the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company, will be there and will also be a speaker at Tel Aviv’s Ecomotion smart transportation conference on Tuesday. The conference runs from June 10 to 13.
The Alliance, which employs six people in Tel Aviv and may expand its local team, did not disclose how much it has invested in setting up the 1,600 square meter (17,280 sq feet) facility, which can host some 10 cars inside the building to test technologies with real vehicles, and has spaces for startups to work in.
The lab is currently testing and working with ten joint prototyping projects with Israeli startups at different stages.
These startups are: Apollo Power – which has developed sun panels that sit atop cars; Argus Cyber Security; AutoTalks; BrightWay Vision; ElectReon, which is developing technology to provide power to public transportation vehicles; Enigmatos, a cybersecurity firm that provides anti-hacking solutions; IRP systems, which develops software-defined electric motors; Karamba Security; Moodify, which is developing cognitive behavioral therapy tool to reduce stress in drivers; SafeRide; and Upstream, which has developed a cloud-based security platform for connected and autonomous fleets.
“With Israel as a global innovation hub, particularly with automotive technology, this new lab is a natural next step for us and will allow the Alliance to leverage the strengths of Israel’s startup ecosystem,” said Yamaguchi. “Through collaborations with promising local startups with cutting-edge technologies, we aim to develop a variety of key technologies, which will be essential for the future of mobility.”
The lab also works in close cooperation with Alliance Ventures, the Alliance corporate venture capital fund that plans to invest up to $1 billion over five years in startups. In Israel, Alliance Ventures has already invested in the Maniv Mobility fund in Israel, but not in any Israeli startup to date. Typically, Alliance Ventures invests in early stage companies, investing up to $10 million in each startup, they said.
The new lab “is not about money,” said Gascon Abellan. “It is about being attractive to startups, to make them feel part of a bigger organization.”
Working within the open lab, he said, will enable the startups to learn what the requirements are for their products to be able to be integrated into cars, “and how to deal with risks and how to make innovation happen in a shorter” time span. The lab will also help foster cooperation between selected startups, he said.
Answering a question about how they view political instability in Israel — where general elections have been called for a second time within five months, Christian Noske, the Direct Investments director of Alliance Ventures, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi’s global investment arm, said that Israeli startups are known to be “flexible” and aim to become global firms from the beginning. This makes it easier for them to cope with political instability, he said.
At the event, Takao Asami, Alliance SVP, said that he expects to see fully autonomous cars on the roads in five to 10 years, and Avi Kenneth, chief commercial officer of Carasso Motors, the importer of the cars of the Alliance in Israel, said that he expects that in 5 to 7 years all of the cars in Israel will be electric. Shay Sofer, Chief Scientist at Israel’s Transportation Ministry, said that he expects that the deployment of more charging points around the country will help boost the number of electric cars.
The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance seeks to develop, both in-house and through teaming up with startups, the technologies that will help it deliver the mobility services of the future, and recognizes Israel as a key innovation hub.
The alliance operates in Israel via both its venture arm and the technology lab it set up in 2016 to foster startups with an emphasis on electric vehicle technology and cybersecurity, to enable them to access and try out technologies on the cars manufactured by the alliance. The new open lab is part of this effort.