Philip Ring

Automotive tough times ahead….

Hardly a week goes by without some news regarding the car industry; whether it’s the previous months’ new car sales or one of the leading car manufacturers tying up with (or buying) a tech or taxi company. It’s difficult to keep up with the real developments, and sort out the real news from the noise.

The disruptors

The real news is that the automotive industry, and those that work in it (including its related finance and leasing), are now facing multiple opportunities or threats (depending upon your point of view). The most obvious of these is the effect of the new entrants (or disruptors) to the market, including Tesla, Apple, Google and Amazon – who each come with their new technologies. Each has been investing heavily in both electric and autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles, and forcing the established marques to do the same.

Self-driving cars

Already self-driving cars are being tested in Pittsburgh, Arizona, California and Milton Keynes (in the  UK). As they clock up thousands of driving miles, with machine learning and complex analytics, the vehicles are apparently becoming better at driving. Human observers have noted that they drive cautiously and lack the intuition that experience gives people – such as understanding the appropriate meaning of an oncoming car flashing its headlights. Although the test vehicles have people in the driving seat ready to take control if necessary, it will take people a huge leap of faith to take their first ‘machine driven’ journey. At the moment, the cars expect the ‘passenger’ to take control of the vehicle when needed – but what’s the point of insisting that the passenger in the driver’s seat takes control? I would either want to drive or not drive – not have to be alert ‘just in case’.

Impossible moral choices

Another hurdle to overcome will be the infinite possibilities of how accident disputes will be handled between non-drivers, the manufacturer, and the insurance companies (of potentially autonomous and human driven cars). And this is a minefield of impossible choices!

If the thinking autonomous vehicle anticipates an impending accident that is likely to be fatal to a passenger or pedestrian whatever action it takes (such as application of brakes and steering), then who should the vehicle choose to save?; the passenger / non-driver not taking action despite the alarm sounding, the higher rate taxpaying 30 year old executive crossing the road, or the unemployed pregnant woman looking at her phone? (By the way, it appears that it will be the vehicle’s passenger that is always saved!)

Watch out for further developments

If we are looking for hurdles to overcome, then in order for greater acceptance of electric vehicles, then the perceived performance (of the car) and the battery charge need to make giant leaps forward, before becoming as widely acceptable. But I see that such improvements will come, as Tesla, Panasonic and Honda in particular, have made huge investments into battery technology and manufacturing. If it is possible to wirelessly charge a phone by placing it on a coffee table (already sold in an IKEA store near you) by induction, then you could envisage driving your car onto a large induction mat to charge your car. Thinking longer term, your autonomous car could check your calendar and drive itself to the nearest ‘induction charging park’ while you are in a meeting, charge itself and return to you in time for your next journey.

The possibilities are endless, but the charging and legislative infrastructures for both electric and autonomous vehicles will need significant investment before I swap my current diesel car for one of these.

Any comments?

What do you think? I would be interested in your feedback, and if you would like to discuss this further, please email me at phillip.ring@cgi.com

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