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Four of the world's largest automakers want to bring the 'blockchain' to your car

  • BMW, Ford, Renault and General Motors joined a new working group to get blockchain technology into your car.
  • The Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative aims to speed up the adoption of the same technology that underpins bitcoin, with use cases ranging from autonomous payments to ridesharing.
  • "This is a tectonic shift in the tech landscape, that has the potential to disrupt the growth plans of legacy tech into the auto," says Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of BKCM.
he steering wheel of a Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) i8 plug-in coupe vehicle is seen during the 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
he steering wheel of a Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) i8 plug-in coupe vehicle is seen during the 2018 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan

Four of the world's largest automakers are part of a new group working to bring blockchain technology, which underpins bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, to your car.

BMW, Ford, Renault and General Motors are among the 30 companies in the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative. Founding members also include IBM, Bosch and Blockchain at Berkeley, MOBI said Wednesday.

The group's mission is to speed up the adoption of blockchain, and make sure the industry is on the same page with use cases ranging from autonomous payments to ride-sharing, according to MOBI's website.

Brian Kelly, founder and CEO of digital asset investment firm BKCM, called the automakers' effort "very, very interesting" because it adds a new battleground for tech companies: your car.

"This is a tectonic shift in the tech landscape, that has the potential to disrupt the growth plans of legacy tech into the auto," Kelly said in a note to clients Wednesday.

Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft are already making the move into connected cars. Amazon expanded Alexa's presence to autos, Microsoft Azure has a car system and Apple offers Carplay for iOS. Google parent Alphabet, meanwhile, is working on an autonomous-driving car through its subsidiary Waymo.

Kelly said the most important part of those initiatives is data.

"MOBI is doing the end around and making that data self-sovereign and giving the consumer the control over their data property rights," he said.

Blockchain technology is what's known as "decentralized" and considered by advocates to be unhackable. Bad actors would need to hack multiple systems to alter any information, making the data almost tamper-proof.

Some are less convinced. In a recent column, economist Nouriel Roubini called blockchain "one of the most overhyped technologies ever."

While there are countless uses for that technology, bitcoin was one of the first applications. The cryptocurrency jumped more than 1,300 percent before losing almost half of its value in the first three months of 2018, according to data from CoinDesk.

The MOBI working group is headed up by car industry veteran Chris Ballinger, who left his role as CFO and head of mobility services at Toyota Research Institute last month.

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