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Corporate espionage - does BMW know more about Tesla than we do?

Discussion in 'Model S' started by calisnow, Mar 9, 2017.

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  1. calisnow

    calisnow Active Member

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    Anyone well versed in how much corporate spying goes on in the auto industry? I guess I'm imagining scenarios where companies outright bribe high level execs at other companies to give up future development plans, trade secrets etc.

    BTW the BMW in the title was a random example - substitute any other carmaker as well.

    I got to thinking about this issue because sometimes I'm surprised there are not more leaks than there already are in the tech industry. For example - with the intense speculation on Model 3's control system I'm a bit surprised no concrete info has leaked at all as to what Elon meant by "spaceship controls." All we have at this point are publicly available clues, like Elon's tweets, company hires, etc.
     
  2. jelloslug

    jelloslug Active Member

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    Nope
     
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  3. AirKuhl

    AirKuhl Member

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    I don't know if there is a lot of spying going on. Maybe I'm naive but I don't think the risk/reward is as high as some people think. If anything a news organization would have more motive than a competitor.

    I can tell you for certain that almost every major manufacturer is investing tremendous amounts of R&D budget into autonomous driving. Tier one suppliers like Bosch, Denso and ZF will increasingly offer turn-key solutions so the underlying hardware will be similar with most of the differentiation in the software. Telsa has a comfortable lead but can't take it's foot off the gas (heh) even for a second.
     
  4. ShockOnT

    ShockOnT Quickish

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    They probably spy plenty, but they have no need to leak their findings so we will never know.
     
  5. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    Spying on Tesla is very easy. Their patents are free for use "in good faith". Autonomous driving technology is pretty well understood industry-wide. deployment is another issue because Tesla assumed risks others did not and has many GB of real world data globally. If tesla can actually use all that data effectively they'll remain ahead for some time. Anyway, this is happening. It will not remain a competitive advantage for Tesla for decades. For that matter BMW, and almost every other major manufacturer (excluding Fiat-Chrysler and Mazda) is investing fairly massive resources in BEV. BY 2025 Tesla will have long since moved on, but the global industry will be awash with BEV's. Industrial espionage will happen but will not be the motive force.

    The fundamental issue is really whether Tesla can predict trends in Energy generation, energy storage and BEV's well enough to remain an industry leader. Bulls say yes. Bears say no. Espionage is irrelevant.

    Finally, there are matters of 'religious' conviction that far outweigh facts in these subjects. Mazda, FCA chief Marchionne, US EPA chief Pruitt and many others have strong beliefs that science cannot surmount. For industrial espionage to work in this environment would require suspension of disbelief. Read the bears. They are often unconcerned with facts but define belief as fact. For that matter the most serious Tesla fanboys (they are almost all 'boys') similarly see everything Tesla through rose-colored spectacles.

    Skip espionage talk, please. It simply is not relevant.
     
  6. sandpiper

    sandpiper Active Member

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    I don't know if you can call it espionage, but I'm pretty sure that all of the auto-makers have a solid idea of what all of their competitors are working on. These organizations are really large, and information flows in informal channels through employees, ex-employees, friends/relations, common suppliers and so on. This is particularly more-so once companies move a product from design engineering out to development of the manufacturing tooling since the circle of people with knowledge expands dramatically. Companies (cough! Apple!) combat this by deliberately floating out "fake-news" to the rumor mill to try to make it more difficult to separate the signal from the noise.

    I can't say it with any authority, but I'd be really shocked if BMW didn't know a LOT more than we do about Tesla's product road map.
     
  7. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    I recall decades ago when I worked as a consultant with several major automakers that they had some good sources without resorting to 'espionage'. For two of them I actually participated in the evaluation of competitive vehicles. One or more examples of whatever was relevant were purchased, driven, torn down and subjected to minute evaluation.

    Then, almost all major builders work with the same suppliers and many parts are actually almost or completely identical for many brands. Panasonic, LG and Samsung all produce batteries and other electrical gear for multiple brands. We all know Samsung is close to Nissan-Renault, ever since Samsung cars were badge engineered Nissan and later Renault bailed out both. LG supplies GM and Tesla. Panasonic supplies several. Bosch supplies nearly everyone.

    As it stands Tesla patents are free for use, anybody can buy from any supplier. As far as BEV's are concerned the issues are not really related to technology per se, but rather to corporate will. The Leaf and Bolt were both purpose built, but acted as catalysts more than anything else. Both presume that cheap should be the destination.

    No amount of espionage will make those decisions better. Only corporate will can do that. For the Americans it may be hopeless because they are spending their resources fighting to avoid progress. The rest of the world is moving quickly.

    Quoting a famous Luddite: "sad"
     
  8. Veritas1980

    Veritas1980 Electric Viking

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    I still think this is the case with Tesla's competitors.

    A while back on the Swedish Tesla owners club's forum, somebody mentioned that they met some french guys with a Model S mounted with external sensors and a follow car on a Super Charger up north.
    Apparently they where quite friendly, but wouldn't give any indication of who they were working for or what the purpose was.

    Now, they could of course be french EV geeks testing out a theory about wind resistance in sub-zero temperatures, but I think this is the type of "espionage" car companies would do to learn from new technology...
     
  9. McRat

    McRat Active Member

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    All successful companies pay attention to what their competition is doing. Few risk actual corporate espionage except the Chinese and Russians.
     
  10. electracity

    electracity Active Member

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    Yes, people in the industry as well as some research analysts know much more than is available to the public. But nothing as dramatic as espionage is necessary to obtain insider information. Tesla has thousands of vendors and former employees. Not to mention current employees who talk to former work buddies.
     
  11. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    Back when I did that for a living I used to hang out in bars near competitors locations for that purpose. My favorite true story happened when I wa flying FC from New York to Tokyo. I had been hired to find out all I could about a specific competitive product. MY seatmate opened some documents during the flight which i immediately say were about the exact soon-to-be-released product I was sent to find. After a couple of drinks he offered to let me read everything he had and discussed details with me. I told him I was very interested in his subject and knew a little about it. I also told him I was consulting in the industry. He kept talking and asked my opinions. I answered as truthfully as I could. He never asked for whom I was working, so I never told him. Before our very long flight was over he kept drinking and finally gave me a copy of detailed specifications, photos and performance details. He only asked that I read it all in detail and let him know exactly what I thought.

    I did as he asked. Later he hired me to do similar work for him, never asked who I'd been working for. Our NDA precluded revealing our clients anyway, and also precluded sharing proprietary information, but I gad not signed one when he gave me the data nor had I suggested I would not use the data for my client.

    When I arrived in Tokyo I shared my findings. The client was elated and surprised. Their strategy changed and their product ended out being very successful.

    Fast forward: Both clients remained so for more than a decade. The seatmate told me years alter that he thought what he got from em made the loss of secrecy worthwhile. He figured out who my client had been when both of them were in a conference together and began to discuss me. Moral: It is a small world! When engaged in competitor intelligence gathering always, always tell the truth and never mislead. Do not ever reveal a confidence. Do use all the information you can use while maintaining integrity. Do not discourage your sources from revealing information, even if you'd never do so yourself.

    Those rules worked pretty well for me.
     
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  12. Vitold

    Vitold Active Member

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    Have you ever considered that perhaps your clients were employing you so they can communicate their plans w/o being accused for collusion?
     
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  13. ecarfan

    ecarfan Well-Known Member

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    I have also been surprised and impressed that after almost a year nothing has leaked regarding the Model 3 driver interface. All we know is what was shown at the reveal, which was a single 15" center display screen and an ordinary looking steering wheel. It's amazing that Tesla has managed to keep the "spaceship controls" a secret for so long!
     
  14. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    Yes. It seems a trifle too conspiratorial to believe it, but coincidences do inspire such conjecture.
     
  15. jbcarioca

    jbcarioca Active Member

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    I agree. They're keeping their secrets better than any other manufacturer I know. Even departed execs seem to not talk too much. They must have nice NDA's and other incentives.
     
  16. Joe F

    Joe F Member

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    Spaceship controls for tourists = no controls? FSD for Model 3 = no controls? :eek:
     
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  17. SMAlset

    SMAlset Member

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    Although if you take VW comments recently (read article yesterday in Electrek), they got caught unaware as their 2020 anticipated car got canned due to not apparently coming even close to the Model S.
     
  18. voltaren

    voltaren Member

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    I know that Silicon Valley is one of the foremost hubs of corporate espionage. I also don't doubt that other auto manufacturers have hired firms to gather intelligence information - especially against Tesla. Of course it's highly illegal and the FBI investigates it, but it happens and it's fairly difficult to prove.

    Give me a night at some event or bar in Palo Alto, and I would be able to elicit troves of corporate secrets.
     
  19. Trips

    Trips Member

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    Google will end up owning Uber over corporate espionage. Ubers main focus is self-driving cars and their technology was stolen from Waymo. Google has the proof and this case will get really expensive for Uber.
     
  20. ShockOnT

    ShockOnT Quickish

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    Perhaps the secrets weren't kept, but those who've stolen their secrets are keeping their secrets better than anyone you know :)
     
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