The future of the auto industry: Three experts place their bets - Part I
The research investigated several forces affecting the wider automotive ecosystem, including increasingly connected vehicles and the entry of tech giants like Google and Apple, autonomous cars, the rise of the sharing economy and a greater interest in sustainability.
With the copies of the report now available on Amazon, we asked three insiders for their predictions about how these changes might pan out.
Our first expert is Marek Reichman, Chief Creative Officer of Aston Martin and a Design Council trustee.
What future trends are carmakers looking at?
Autonomous driving is an eventuality, of course. Who does it first is the question. But it’s ready now. The issues with it really are to do with insurance and culpability. Currently, if an autonomous car hits a car which is being driven by a person, who’s at fault? The person driving could say, no, this machine was out of control… there are lots and lots of issues aside from the technology that are stopping autonomous driving. At some point, some state or some country will decide: this section of road is for autonomous cars. And then we’ll start to see it proliferate.
How do you foresee urban driving in the future?
In a major city, does it make sense to own a car anymore? Not really. You can’t park it anywhere unless you have a fantastic house with a driveway and a garage. You’re always penalised, you’re always stuck in a traffic jam. So why not have, like Boris bikes, Boris cars that are autonomous. You can stick £10 in the slot and then use the car for a 30-minute journey in London. And, presto, because it’s connected, it takes you the best route. What happens to taxis? Maybe the taxis are there just for tourists.
I think there is an inevitability that we will have this kind of technology, and it will probably be a lane splitter – in other words, it won’t be a wide car, it will be something quite narrow, so you can get three or four of them in a lane where you have one car currently. That way, you can transport more people around the city. Will they be electric, will they be hydrogen? Probably one of those two propulsion methods.
What will happen to the luxury car market?
What we call the high-luxury segments, or the premium segments, are growing globally. The one thing that we see in world economies and patterns of purchase are more freedom all the time, more choice left to the consumer. I think there will be a greater diversity of product. We’ve seen a proliferation already. If you look back to the 60s and 70s, there were many car manufacturers. But they probably made a handful of cars: a medium-sized car, a big car and then an estate version. Now the amount of cars, from micro cars to massive SUVs, crossovers and hybrid products – they just keep going.
The diversity of product within the automotive sector is absolutely unbelievable.
I also think there will be far more use-appropriate products as we go into the future. You will have less of the kind of car that does everything for everyone, and you’ll have more specific-use vehicles out there. Your day-to-day commute may be answered by the hire car in the city, which isn’t yours; it’s cleaned regularly, it’s there when you need it and it’s just functional. Which means that the car I choose to buy is the car that suits my other needs, whether that’s for family, recreation or holidays.
VW has just launched the latest version of the minivan bus called the California that was prolific in the 60s. It’s a specific product for people who want to enjoy camping in their car. The diversity of product within the automotive sector is absolutely unbelievable.
How do you think the tech industry will affect the auto industry?
I think what companies like Apple and Google do is they upset the apple cart. The car industry is absolutely going to be much more competitive. What the tech companies do is throw in an alternative to challenge the Toyotas, the Fords, the Mercedes of the world to say, ‘we can fish in your pond too’. But guess what, it’s really, really difficult to produce a car. What Apple and Google will have to do is either collaborate or hire the greatest minds.
Anywhere you look, without collaboration, there isn’t really survival.
A car has to pass lots of legislation to make it road legal, and that’s the expertise that Apple and Google don’t have. Mercedes has been doing it for over 100 years; Ford’s been doing it for over 100 years. They have the depth of knowledge. So I think you’ll see a much more collaborative world. Just as in nature: nature tends to collaborate to succeed, and I think you’ll see the same applied across the automotive world. We see it now: Nissan collaborated with Renault and then became part owners; we have a relationship with Mercedes and it’s a 5% ownership of our company. Anywhere you look, without collaboration, there isn’t really survival, and I think that’s important.
When do you foresee major changes happening in the automotive world?
I think the next five years will be really interesting, and imagine ten years down the road… Think about our world 10 or 15 years ago, when your cell phone was literally just a cell phone, a device to call someone on. Now it’s your personal computer and you can access anything anywhere in the world. I think autonomous cars will take off in a similar way.
Beyond tech companies, where do advancements in the automotive industry stem from?
So often, pinnacles of technology feed back into the mainstream. Formula One cars can be controlled from the pit lane – the power output, the braking bias – literally the only thing the driver would have to do is steer around the corners. But with camera technology, you could take the driver out of those cars and there would be big remote control cars driving around.
F1, IndyCar, Nascar, World Endurance Championships, World Rally - all of those things allow us to test technologies before they come into the mainstream. ABS braking is a fantastic solution to road safety that was developed through motor racing. And there are so many other examples: tyre technologies, braking technologies, safety cells, crash cells.
How do you imagine autonomous driving in your daily life?
I can’t wait for the day when, even in my Aston Martin, I hit the autonomy button when I drive into London and can just sit there and read the paper, look at my iPad or talk to someone on the phone. The car drives me to where I need to go. That’s making cars more efficient, because it’s finding the shortest route; it’s not using fuel because it has a heavy right foot.
Being able to turn autonomy off is going to be very important.
I imagine that after I leave London, and once I’ve got outside the traffic jam, I can take the autonomy button off. The car says to me, ‘You’re now free to drive where you like,’ and I can take it on an open road somewhere. Customer choice is all important. Because of the liability aspect, or for your pure pleasure and enjoyment, you would want the ability to turn autonomy off.
Also, we still don’t realise the amount of information Google or Apple gather from us because of the devices we use. Google knows where we are, what we’re doing. Apple could look down at the text message I just sent. So, at some point, being able to turn autonomy off is going to be very important for us.
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