against the emergence of “new GAFAM”?

Electromobility is one of the new playgrounds for innovative companies. A sector that could promote the emergence of giants of a new kind.

From Hewlett-Packard to Google to Apple, legend has it that the largest technology companies were born in a garage, often with barely more than a dollar in their pocket. If the allegory about the garage is not foreign to the car world, the parallel stops here, because the investments today are much more consistent, and it would not occur to anyone to launch a new Ford with pieces of string from the bottom of the parent shed.

That being said, if history does not repeat itself, it stems at times, and there are a few signs that the ongoing electric car saga, in turn, may be producing giants that may not even exist yet. As we write these lines. And contrary to what we experienced with the GAFAMs, it may also be that these future giants are not American. Or at least not only.

The “GAFAMs for electromobility” may be European

Because whether it is in the electric car or in related sectors, the United States is no longer alone in the market as it could have been – and still is – in computer, internet and digital technologies. We are, of course, thinking of China, which, in terms of production, seems to be a leader, whether in the abundance of its car brands or batteries and their components. But Europe, with a long and solid car tradition, is not to be surpassed, and is positioning itself more in innovation and services. A Europe that is moving at a forced pace towards all-electricity thanks to environmental commitments that could give it a decisive advantage if we consider regulatory constraints as a stimulator of creativity, and therefore innovation (yes, yes, if there is a debate on this point and it will not be decided here).

So of course, when we talk about GAFAM and translating the concept into the electric car sector, the first name that comes to mind is American, and yes, it’s Tesla. The Texan manufacturer of California origin actually ticks almost all the boxes for the technology giant: abysmal losses in the beginning, then meteoric growth, innovation, management of (big) data and direct relationship to the customer via a technological tool, the car – connected, it says even – here replacement of smartphone or computer.

But other players try to get their feet wet and develop very quickly by relying on the same ingredients that have made GAFAM successful: agility, innovation and of course a solid financial base consisting of equity (a little) and fundraising (a lot). We first think of charging operators who are a bit into electromobility what ISPs or data centers are for the Internet: network infrastructures that provide access to content (the road). In this sector, the race has finally started, with players marking their territory with great fundraising moves. This is the case with Ionity (700 million recently from Blackrock), but also for Power Dot (150 million), Fastned (150 million) or Electra (15 million and a next round on the way). Other players are underway, more discreet, perhaps a little less rich, but who is likely to weight the game in the coming years, whether they are operators or evolving in sectors close to electromobility, such as applications (ABRP, Chargemap, Plugshare, Nabla Connect etc.), innovative services (Dreev, Yespark ReCharge, Clem, etc.) or smart charging devices (Sparklin, etc.).

A market that offers another similarity to the digital market, namely being supported by an ecosystem that consists of business angelventure capital firms (Serena, for example, was part of Electra’s financing round) and even specialized incubators such as AVERE France and its Advenir program.

And innovation in all this?

If all electric cars are the same in their design and the functionalities offered, as digital, it is in the sharp data management that the difference will be made, whether it is about the driver’s knowledge and its behavior (and therefore its expectations) or of the artificial intelligence , which controls the car and the control of the batteries. It may be that from this point of view, the car industry today needs more data scientists than mechanics. In these areas, China (and its dozens of manufacturers) and Silicon Valley still seem to be one step ahead, but Europe with its historic players has not said its last word, whether it is Mercedes with its autonomy record or Audi and Porsche with their 800 volt architecture that allows the fastest charging speeds in the world on production cars.

We do know, however, that when we talk about GAFAM (or GAFA), it is rarely in laudatory terms, and that criticism is not far off. They are often criticized for their stranglehold on data, their intrusive tracking and bias. Without counting the lawsuit that is regularly brought before them on their ability to influence city life until the election results change. Will it be the same with the giants born of high car technology? Hard to say. However, some clues suggest what could be a Big Brother in car sauce, such as Tesla’s already controversial Safety Score, which could affect insurance prices. Not to mention this black box story that could show up in cars. In short, in terms of data and their use, current cars, equipped with dozens of sensors, constitute an almost inexhaustible gold mine.

Data, innovation, cutting-edge technologies … Slightly blurred concepts for the privileged with a well-stocked purse? Not so sure. The car’s history over the last few decades has shown that innovation that was originally reserved for the top of the series always ends up seeping down to the entire sector, right up to the starting level. The same is likely to apply in the electric car sector.

It remains to be seen whether the future Google or Meta of the sector already exists. And if his garage is located in Asia, America or Europe. And above all, what groundbreaking innovation it will offer …

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