Supporters of the Stanford center have access to research conducted by the university in three key areas: Dynamic Design, Interactive Media and the Stanford AI Lab, the intellectual home for Stanford Computer Science Dept. researchers whose primary focus is artificial intelligence, and its automated driving group.

Beiker notes Stanford researchers have been working on the combination of motoring and artificial intelligence for more than a decade, going back to the DARPA Challenge for automated driving sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense. The VW-Stanford researchers were an integral part of the team that won the first DARPA challenge race in 2005.

Automated driving, a term Beiker prefers to autonomous vehicles, remains one of the key areas being explored by CARS, he says. But automated driving also requires an understanding of the human-machine interactions and the legal environment in which cars can operate by themselves.

Automatic driving within the controlled environment of a factory floor is quite different than in actual traffic, Beiker notes in his small office tucked into an office building in the center of the Stanford campus.

“We have access to expertise in both of these fields,” says Beiker, who acknowledges Stanford's influence in the automotive world has grown along with interest in automated vehicles and autonomous driving. “There is little doubt that Google has a large impact on the automobile industry,” he says of the Silicon Valley tech giant and its Self-Driving Car.

Self-driving vehicles aren’t the only area of interest to the auto industry at Stanford. In addition, projects in electric-vehicle charging and research on advanced batteries are being conducted by the university’s Institute for Materials Science, which recently published a paper indicating advances in nanotechnology are pointing to lighter, cheaper and more durable batteries.

Other aspects of Stanford CARS, which describes itself as “an interdisciplinary partnership between academia and industry to address the challenges of personal mobility in the 21st century,” involve discussions of future business models.

Beiker is in regular contact with Silicon Valley's venture-capitalist companies concentrated along Sand Hill Road near the Stanford campus.

“They're not interested in financing a new car company. But they are talking about mobility services,” he says, noting the Uber ride-sharing service has had a huge influence on the thinking of the area’s wealthy VC community.

Silicon Valley is very interested in what goes on in Detroit and Stuttgart, but will it become the next automotive center? “I don't think that's going to happen. I don't even think they want to,” Beiker says.