WestEndExtra

The independent London newspaper

The future of the automotive industry

04 June, 2018

The automotive industry is currently undergoing a number of major transitions that will fundamentally change how we transport ourselves in the future. This article reviews some of the latest and most important developments in the automotive industry, and how the industry will change in the future.

Electrification

Car manufacturers across the globe are increasingly beginning to handle the fact that fossil fuels are limited. Today, almost all large car manufacturers have at least one hybrid or plug-in electric model. The Swedish auto maker Volvo Cars has reported that from 2019 onward, all their new car models will be equipped with either a hybrid or a battery-powered electric motor. Substituting internal combustion engines with electric engines is an important step towards more sustainable transport systems, given that the produced electricity is renewable and clean.  

In line with this development, the auto repair industry will also need to change significantly. Electric cars are more difficult to repair at home, since they rely on highly complex interconnected mechanical and electronic systems. In comparison, most cars that run on the streets today (that is, non-electrical cars) are much easier to repair at home. When spark plugs and brake rotors get worn out or break, it is easy to buy replacement parts from all large global manufacturers, for example Robert Bosch GmbH, in auto part stores online, and replace them at home.

This will be harder in the future when cars are increasingly electric. Only trained experts should attempt to repair electric engines due to the high voltage. To protect both cars and people, manufacturers have blocked the access to many key features in electric cars, essentially forcing car owners to leave the car to a professional car repair shop. This means that the auto repair industry will become more advanced in the future, and that car repairing will require more skills and more advanced tools.

Autonomous cars 

A second major trend that we are only in the beginning of is the development of autonomous, or self-driving, cars. Traditional automobile manufacturers are now racing to develop smart vehicles that are capable of navigating and driving by themselves, without human help. Autonomous cars use techniques such as radar, laser light, GPS and computer vision, in combination with advanced control systems, to sense their surrounding environment, analyze sensory data to avoid obstacles on the road, and find the best route.

Many people are still skeptical about autonomous cars and concerned about the risks. Whether autonomous cars will be widely accepted or not thus depends on the industry’s ability to clearly demonstrate the benefits, and address concerns about safety, technology, liability-issues and legal questions.   

There have been a few fatal accidents involving autonomous cars (in total, 4 people have been killed), but the public perception of the risks seems exaggerated. Self-driving cars are actually much safer than traditional cars. Human error is currently responsible for about 90% of all car accidents. It has been estimated that self-driving cars could eliminate almost all accidents currently caused by human error, thereby saving thousands of lives every year and significantly reducing the costs associated with road accidents (both physical damages and health care costs). Self-driving cars will also provide smoother and faster rides that will save transport time, thanks to smarter driving patterns, reduced traffic congestion and better traffic flow. Also, not having to drive frees up time that can be used for other things.

Significant challenges remain before driverless cars take over our streets. One main challenge is to develop sensing and navigation systems that can function in highly chaotic city environments, and in all weathers.

Autonomous vehicles do take away the driving experience – the ability to control the car and the sense of freedom one may feel when driving. It is likely that driverless cars will be used more for everyday commuting, and that traditional cars will continue to exist and be used more for pleasure-oriented driving and road trips.

Car sharing services

Car sharing services is another way that digitalization will change how we transport ourselves in the future. The idea of owning you own car now seems out-of-date for many young people, especially in urban areas. The concept of “peak car” is debated, but some scholars mean that certain developed countries now experience a decline in automobile usage and ownership. At the same time, we are currently witnessing the birth and growth of numerous car sharing services across the world. Car sharing services which allow you to reserve a car, often by the hour, at the tap of a personal mobile device, are already available in more than 1000 cities globally.

Car sharing services provide many benefits. First, it is cost-efficient for people who don’t need a car on a regular basis. Second, it eliminates the need to deal with maintenance and insurances, which many people find convenient. Third, car sharing services reduce the need for parking space since fewer cars in total are needed. Now, the car industry needs to figure out how to start selling rides, instead of cars.

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