Former auto executive says Israel has become a hotbed for mobility tech

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In Germany, Karl-Thomas Neumann sees a country rooting its next-generation mobility culture around traditional cars. In Israel, he sees one formulating future plans around a variety of transportation modes.

The longtime automotive executive lamented the former and praised the latter Tuesday during remarks at the virtual EcoMotion mobility tech conference.

EcoMotion is a joint venture of the Israeli Innovation Institute, the Smart Transportation Administration and the Ministry of Economy.

“In Germany, we believe mobility is cars, and we think we have to protect the auto industry and the notion that you own your own car,” he said. “There’s no city in Germany with a strong vision of getting rid of cars and creating the next level of mobility and transportation.”

Neumann, former CEO at Continental, Opel GmbH and Volkswagen China, has been paying close attention to the startup ecosystem and mobility technology emerging from Tel Aviv. He believes Israel has emerged as a global hotspot for transportation technology, thanks to the country’s combination of an educated work force, entrepreneurial culture and access to funding.

Tel Aviv is “creating a test bed and a place where you can demonstrate these technologies, and becoming a model for other cities in the world,” he said. “That enables startups to do things here they cannot do in other places. … That’s really important for setting a good base for automotive and mobility startups.”

Last year, Neumann joined the board of directors at one of those startups — Cartica AI. The company has developed an unsupervised learning approach to artificial intelligence that could improve the accuracy of image classification in driver-assist and autonomous-driving systems. He sees his value in helping Cartica, and potentially other startups, through the years-long process to series production in the automotive sector.

Neumann heard about Israel’s burgeoning technology culture during his tenure as Opel’s CEO from 2013 to 2017. It wasn’t until after he left the job and a friend cajoled him into visiting Tel Aviv that he saw Israel’s potential in the automotive sector firsthand.

“I was totally impressed,” he said. “I’d go to a startup event in Berlin, and say, ‘This is really cool, and I could see it being used to deliver food to someone.’ But in Israel, it’s like every company, after a half hour of talking to them, I couldn’t understand what they were talking about because they were so deep in the technology.”

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Saurabh Shukla

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