Stellantis Leverages Tech And Digital Innovation To Make Driving Safer And More Environmentally Friendly

February 17, 2022
BY Peter High Founder and President of Metis Strategy
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The automobile is one of the most important innovations of the last century. It has not been an unmitigated blessing, however, as it has led to millions of deaths through accidents, and it is among the biggest sources of pollution.

Mamatha Chamarthi is the Software Business and Product Management Leader at Stellantis, a post that she took on in April of 2021. Stellantis was formed in 2021 on the basis of a merger between the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler and the French PSA group. The combined entity has a bit more than $200 billion in annual revenue.

It is refreshing to speak with Chamarthi about the car industry because she does not wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to the issues that the industry has had, just as she is inspired and energized by the role that technology can play in rectifying those issues. “Millions of people are seriously injured every year in car crashes [around the world]. Last year in the U.S., there was a 7% increase [in serious injuries],” she said. She recognizes that autonomous driving is the key to driving down these issues because 95% of the fatalities are due to human error. Her goals is to augment human intelligence to reduce this radically. “There is a bigger, broader purpose and a societal challenge that we are going after with autonomy. That is why the technology industry is also so fascinated with this area of autonomy.”

To solve autonomy requires the development of an ecosystem around Stellantis, and, here again, Chamarthi is part of the solution. “We are creating an ecosystem, partnering with technology companies like Amazon and Waymo,” noted Chamarthi. “We partnered with Waymo for autonomy, and we are also partnering with BMW, another traditional automaker just like us, to create our level two-plus [autonomy, out of five levels ] with enhanced autonomy to level three, which is where your hands are off the steering wheel, your eyes are off the road for some time and your feet are off the accelerator and the brake.” The company has developed adaptive cruise control, emergency braking and Traffic Jam Assist, as three components to help get from level two-plus driving to level three and beyond.

Chamarthi notes the necessity of partnering with pure-play technology companies, as they have technology budgets that dwarf those of automotive companies. A company like Stellantis can offer industry expertise and loyal customers, and technology companies can develop a portfolio of technologies for the Stellantises of the world to leverage as it climbs the rungs toward greater levels of autonomy.

Global warming is another major issue for the automotive industry to solve. Chamarthi admits that transportation is one of the biggest contributor to air pollution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency notes transportation as the third biggest contributing industry to greenhouse gas emissions. Again, she believes digital innovation should drive better outcomes on that front, as well. “We have to find an answer to reducing the carbon footprint because that is part of our responsibility to leave a cleaner, greener planet for future generations,” said Chamarthi. This will be enhanced not only through autonomy, but also through greater levels of electrification and shared mobility.

Chamarthi asked a rhetorical question. “What percentage of the time do we use [a car]? 7% maybe at best. 93% of the time it is sitting on a driveway or in a garage or a parking lot. In our digital economy, what happens with an underutilized asset? We find some creative, innovative ways of using that asset and that is what gave birth to ridehailing shared mobility.” To fill this need, Stellantis launched Free2Move, which provides customers the option to lease or own a mobility experience for a few minutes through to multiple years in duration. This mobility as a service offering will not be limited to Stellantis’ automotive portfolio. The company will provide the products and services to bring this to life for competitors’ portfolios, as well.

Beyond the virtuous aspects of digital innovation, Chamarthi is also excited about the experiences that can be brough to life through the connected automobile. “Can I personalize the driving experience of the customer?,” she asked. By way of example, she noted, “I can provide a Jeep for an off-road trail [for a customer], planning an end-to-end trail experience for my customer.” She likens this to excursions for a cruise line. If a customer signs up for Free2Move, they can have access to multiple vehicles for different kinds of experiences, each with a level of education and curation to make them safe and interesting at the same time.

Prior to her current role, Chamarthi was the Chief Digital Officer and Chief Information Officer of Stellantis. She sees her evolution from CIO and CDO to running a profit center for the company as representative of the ascent of technology and digital across businesses more generally. Increasingly, “Technology is front and center,” she said. “It is exciting to be driving and shaping the automotive industry in these macro trends of autonomy, electrification, connected services and shared mobility. All of them are enabled by software, are all enabled by technology. It only makes complete sense to me that technology leaders are being asked to come lead from the front [rather] than leading from behind.”

Peter High is President of  Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Nimble, was recently released. He also moderates the Technovation podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on Twitter @PeterAHigh.

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