The Six Five On the Road at CES with Luminar and Martin Kristensson of Volvo Cars

By Patrick Moorhead - January 9, 2023

The Six Five “On The Road” at CES 2023. Daniel Newman and Patrick Moorhead talk with Martin Kristensson, Head of AD and Mobility for Volvo Cars. Their conversation covers:

  • Volvo’s partnership with Luminar Technologies
  • Debut of the Volvo EX 90, a fully electric SUV with Luminar Iris LiDAR
  • The big picture of what’s ahead for automotive in 2023

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You can listen to the conversation here:

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Patrick Moorhead: Hi, this is Pat Moorhead and we are live in the Luminar booth, CES 2023. We are rocking the 6-5 on the road, in the booth, and I’m here with my bestie Daniel Newman. How you doing, buddy?

Daniel Newman: Happy to be here. I’m near cars. I’m literally inches from cars. And you know me, I get that close to vehicles, I get excited, my heart starts pounding a little bit faster. And this is all about the coolest future, next generation driverless, safe but fast. I love it.

Patrick Moorhead: No, I know. It’s great. And for your entertainment, Daniel, CES created an entire west hall just for your automotive desires and dreams. But hey, we have a guest here. We should probably get to the guest here.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, yeah, let’s do it.

Patrick Moorhead: And we are very excited to welcome Martin from Volvo. How are you?

Martin Kristensson: Thank you very much, guys. Love being here.

Patrick Moorhead: No, it’s great. We’re sitting right next to your baby over there and we’ll make sure we get some cuts of that in there. But can we talk a little bit first, what do you do for Volvo?

Martin Kristensson: So I lead concept development called product definition, and I also do partnerships. That means that I get to play with all the really cool stuff that you guys haven’t seen yet.

Patrick Moorhead: Oh my God, you have the best job on the planet. I thought I had the best job on the planet, which is I deliver almost nothing and have no accountability as an industry analyst.

Martin Kristensson: That does sound fun, yeah.

Patrick Moorhead: No it is. No, we should trade cards after this.

Daniel Newman: Don’t undersell though. We work with 150 of the world’s most exciting tech companies and try to pay attention to everything they do and then make it make sense to the whole world? It’s not as easy as it sounds. You just make it look easy Pat, just like this beautiful EX90 over here. They kind of made this whole idea of electrifying, and then creating a car that could go fully autonomous, but making it available in mass at scale in 2023. They made it look easy, which it definitely is not. So let’s get Martin started here. I want to just get your, with someone that does a job like yours, looking at the big picture of what’s ahead for automotive in 2023, we’re here at CES, what do you see Martin?

Martin Kristensson: I would actually say that it’s a year or will be year of a bit of reality check. I think that, not to sound boring, but I think it is. I think we’ve had a few years with autonomous driving is very, very almost there, and with everybody has augment reality hubs and 3D displays and so on. And this is probably a year of a bit more saying that, “Okay, let’s make sure it works first.” And in our case it’s more about, okay, first and foremost we going to make a car that is super, super safe and super convenient. It will be autonomous, but we going to make sure it’s safe first.

Patrick Moorhead: God, I love the reality check. And it’s funny, every year, Preston, they always ask me, “Hey, what can we expect for CES this year?” And I always vacillate between a visionary show, which big promises are made. And by the way, I think I remember six or seven years ago, companies making promises about something that was going to happen four years ago that still hasn’t happened yet. So it is great that we’re in reality time. What are your specific priorities for the year right now? I mean obviously, you got this sexy beast, the EX90 out, but there I’m sure there’s a lot more going on than that.

Daniel Newman: That’s the official descriptor. Sexy beast.

Martin Kristensson: No, but I… You’re spot on. I mean, number one thing is we’re going to get this thing into production and into customer hands. That is the number one priority. And then again, part of my job is looking maybe three or four or five years ahead and what is the next step after this step?

Daniel Newman: All right, so let’s open the box. It’s CES 2023. Again, we have this car here. But kind of, what are the big things that Volvo is unveiling? Is it beyond the EX90 or is this it? And by the way, it is not the right word. Tell us about it.

Martin Kristensson: Yeah, okay. So this is the… The EX90 is our new fully electric SUV. And what’s super cool about this car is that it’s built to be autonomous and it has all the capabilities. It has redundant power, redundant steering, it has redundant compute, it has this amazing Luminar lidar, it has cameras, radars and whatnot to be autonomous. That’s a huge step for us. It’s electric, it’s autonomous. A third thing that I will say that is really impressive with this car. So again, it is built with a core compute system. It is one of the first really software defined vehicles. I know we’ll love talking about software in the car industry and we’re not that great at it. This is the first step to actually having a car that does improve over time with new software, new functions. over the air too.

Patrick Moorhead: Well, it’s super exciting. I mean, I think there’s no debate on what consumers want, right? And I think the smartphone kind of set the bar for a lot of other devices out there. And they wanted to get better over time, like you said, and they’re very willing to make upgrades on a software basis to get something even better down the road. And I’ll tell you, if I look at the history of technology back a hundred years, things don’t get better over time.

And I know there’s also a sustainability angle here of not always having to buy something brand new to get this new feature. But it’s taken us a long time to get here. A lot of puts, a lot of takes, false starts. But I think we’re actually here, and I do remember six or seven years ago sitting here saying, “Hey, you’re not going to get full autonomy of the smartphone chip,” because that’s what we were talking about six or seven years ago, and I believed none of it and it ended up being true. But you have, essentially, a super computer in your system, don’t you? In fact, redundant ones.

Martin Kristensson: Yeah, that’s right. But I think, I mean, we’re also putting power into the car in terms of compute, not only for the features that we will be available at launch, but we’re kind of preparing for this growth in software that we think that customers will expect frankly, because as you say yourself, your iPhone doesn’t really do much when you take it out of the box. It’s the software and the things that you put on it. That’s what really brings customer value. And I think the core industry has to move in that direction. There’s no alternative.

Patrick Moorhead: So for decades, Volvo has been a hallmark for safety.

Martin Kristensson: And design, right?

Patrick Moorhead: Well, design came after the hallmark of it. But come on, you have to admit it used to be safety, now it’s safety and design. And part of safety is there’s a lot of ways you can cut that bit. Millions of lives are lost on the road each year, and it seems like we need to do something about it, we can do something about this. And that gets me to your partnership with Luminar. We’re in Luminar’s booth right now. What is the relationship between the two companies? Obviously, nice Luminar system elegantly placed on the top of the EX90.

Martin Kristensson: Yeah, so I would put, let’s say it like this. The worst kept secret of the industry, I think, is that core manufacturers were not that great at building software. I mean, if you look at some of these solutions out there-

Patrick Moorhead: Out of respect, I’m not going to nod my head.

Martin Kristensson: … Okay.

Daniel Newman: I nodded.

Martin Kristensson: Yeah, right. And so there’s different approaches to solving that problem. Either you say that, “Okay, we built hardware and integrated hardware components into our cars for a hundred years, so let’s do the same thing with software.” So we buy one software piece from Japan and one from China and then we put it together. Or the other approach is to say, “Okay, we’re going to build all the software ourselves. That’s the only way we’re going to make it work.” From what we will be taking a third approach here, and that is that to actually work with partners. And instead of telling Luminar, “Okay, we want a lidar, it’s going to have these success packs,” and so on. We actually talked to them about these vision, about zero collisions, about cars that don’t crash, and we talked about, “Okay, so how can we actually achieve that?”

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And another thing that I thought about when we were talking offline, you were sort of explaining that you have the Luminar lidar, you were explaining all the radar that you have in the vehicle, the camera for vision that you have. Of course, you have a partnership with Nvidia as well on the, or in the other software. Just building on Pat’s question a little bit, we all know another company that’s really touting autonomous and has gone all in on camera. You as the guy that’s helping drive the future and the innovation, why are you choosing all these multiple sensors? Why is that the right thing?

Martin Kristensson: Yeah, because every sensor is wrong. It’s always going to be wrong. Even the lidar will be wrong. I mean, you can look at this picture. There are errors in this picture as well. So the more different kind of sensors you have, the more likely you are to be right. If you see any magic show that will show you a card trick, they can easily fool you with the card trick. So that tricks your eyes. If I tell you then, “Okay, now keep your hand on the card,” let’s see how easy it’s going trick you then. Same thing here, more sensors the better.

Daniel Newman: By the way, I totally agree with you. I just wanted to make you say it. So just so you know.

Patrick Moorhead: Wasn’t there a company that said they were going to do a cross-country autonomous drive?

Daniel Newman: There was.

Patrick Moorhead: It still hasn’t happened yet?

Daniel Newman: It hasn’t.

Patrick Moorhead: Okay.

Daniel Newman: I like the perspective of safety and redundancy. We know this from all kinds of other technologies where it’s, could you imagine running your entire company in the cloud and only having one instance and not… And it’s the same kind of thing. And this is even more severe because it’s life and death, in many cases, about getting it right. So good place to end is what is next for autonomy? Where does this go from here?

Martin Kristensson: I mean, eventually, we will have cars, we will only have cars that drive themselves. I know you want to drive, but maybe you can drive on a track or something like that. ‘Cause to be honest, on a typical day, 100 Americans die in traffic. I mean, that’s not sustainable. We can’t keep doing that, right? And we know that about 90% of accidents are caused by human errors. So yeah, we need to move to autonomy eventually, all the time, everywhere.

Patrick Moorhead: I mean, it’s funny if you didn’t have something to follow up with, you wouldn’t have anything to do, right? So that’s a good question. Well, I know you can’t divulge all your secrets, but one thing that I learned today and as industry analysts, we’re supposed to know everything. I didn’t know that this could be fully autonomous. I think that’s pretty cool. Have you pegged a date or year when it could be fully autonomous? What are the variables and dependencies?

Martin Kristensson: I mean, yeah. So we will put the car in the market first and we will use consumer cars to validate the function to make sure that it’s absolutely safe before we offer asset function. That’s why we are not telling you exact date because we’re not going to want to be held to that date. We’re going to wait until it’s safe. Even if that means waiting for revenue, if you will, right? And that’s part of the answer. And we’re starting in California with the rollout. We’re going to start with highways. But even before the car is autonomous and even where it’s not autonomous, this is going to be the safest car out there and it’s going to be have the best driver support systems, and what you can get as well.

Daniel Newman: Well, congratulations on the launch of the EX90. I like what I’m seeing. I think you guys are heading in the right direction. Very exciting for Volvo, very exciting for Luminar. And Pat, I’m sure we could both speak for, I can speak for you when I say we’re both looking forward to seeing how all of this evolves. So Martin, thanks so much for joining us here.

Martin Kristensson: Thank you very much guys.

Daniel Newman: All right, everybody for the 6-5 on the road at CES 2023. We’re in the West Hall, we’re around all the cool mobility and automotive technologies, and we were here with Volvo. So appreciate you tuning in. Hit that subscribe button, watch all the other episodes from the chill floor here, as well as our other interviews that we do with hundreds of the most prolific tech executives in the world. For Patrick, for myself though, time to say goodbye. We’ll see y’all later.

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.