Wheego Electric Cars has been transformed into Wheego Technologies providing autonomous vehicle technologies mostly in China, the company’s chief said.
In an interview with WardsAuto, Wheego CEO Mike McQuary explained the company’s transition from a manufacturer of small electric cars in the U.S. to a supplier of electric vehicle and autonomous-driving technology to other companies.
Wheego Electric Cars, started up in 2009 and was based in Atlanta. The company sold about 400 Wheego Whip and LiFe units through a network of affiliated dealers in the U.S. McQuary said that it’s been nearly three years since any Wheego electric cars have been delivered to dealers.
The company’s focus is now on developing products for autonomous vehicles that use machine learning and artificial intelligence, he said.
Wheego Technologies has two divisions of about a dozen employees each. Its division in Sonoma, Calif., still is working on electric car drivetrains. A new division in Atlanta that started up 18 months ago is working on autonomous driving.
Earlier this month, Wheego was issued a permit by the state of California to test autonomous vehicles on its roads. The Sonoma division will be running tests in California to prove its technology.
McQuary’s technology background comes from having previously served as president of chief operating officer of internet-service provider Mindspring. He led that tech company through a merger with Earthlink, won several customer-service awards, and faced competition with industry giants such as AT&T and Microsoft.
Competing against giants is here again for McQuary, with Google and Apple heavily involved in autonomous technologies along with automakers and automotive suppliers. McQuary said that Wheego differs from some of the competition through its emphasis on deep learning and artificial intelligence. The company is using the practice of machine learning, which looks at the best traits of human drivers and adopts them.
“Artificial intelligence and machine learning are going to have the same effect on people’s lives as the Internet has had in the last 20 years,” he said.
Wheego is focused on selling to Chinese clients who are racing to develop and manufacture plug-in electrified vehicles and to include autonomous driving in the package. Many of these Chinese companies lack the necessary technology, which Wheego can offer.
“We will sell to Chinese automakers,” he says. “I think most of the U.S. OEMs have the mentality that everything needs to be built by themselves. That has been the culture and the mindset.”
China should move faster than the U.S. in autonomous vehicles due to less emphasis in China on insurance and self-driving-car liability issues, McQuary said.
Chinese companies are focusing heavily on PEVs with some companies, such as search-engine giant Baidu, going after autonomous driving technologies.
But investing in autonomous-vehicle technology is hardly unique to China, said Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst at Navigant Research. “Everyone in Silicon Valley, Detroit, Tokyo and Seoul has been thinking about it,” he said.