Lawrence Keyler, Global Automotive Sector Leader at RSM US
Up to this point, sustainability has been the primary narrative around electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs). However, the very nature of these vehicles as interconnected pieces of self-driving technology means there is a lot more to gain from full scale adoption than we previously thought. As a result, we will likely see dramatic changes in everything we currently know about driving.
As the industry begins to tinker with what is possible, we are getting a clearer picture of how these vehicles will change our lives, our commutes, and our cities.
One of the greatest advantages of AVs is the efficiency that it will introduce into the driving experience. Not just in the speed in which we get from Point A to Point B, but in how these vehicles will seamlessly coexist (and interact) with our day-to-day lives.
For instance, consider how much time we spend on getting our oil changed, stopping to fill the gas tank, or cleaning our windshields. Autonomous vehicles will virtually eliminate the need for human maintenance, as the car itself will likely manage most of these tasks for us. Another benefit is that EVs and AVs will also greatly reduce noise pollution in congested cities, as they will be much quieter on the road than combustible engines. Quieter cities and more of our own time back sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Another interesting development is that safety features on these vehicles will be so much more advanced than what is currently available. Predictive technology means safer roads and fewer accidents. If an EV or AV is involved in an accident, it will notify emergency services immediately while sending reams of data, saving precious time for first responders to react when they arrive on scene. Additionally, EVs tend to have a lower centre of gravity due to the difference in the weight of both engines. A combustible engine is much heavier and, therefore, greatly increases the chances of the vehicle flipping over if it is involved in a high-speed accident.
The commuter of the 21st century
Vehicles will no longer just be a form of transportation – they will create a seamless boundary between our “home” lives and our “commuter” lives. The fundamentals of driving, such as steering and pedal pumping, may evolve or disappear altogether. With hands, eyes, and brain freed up from the basic task of driving, passengers will potentially have an array of distractions to keep them busy. A whole catalogue of interesting activities can be made available during trips, including streaming movies or shows, hosting virtual meetings, or even catching a quick nap in a darkened interior.
The user experience will change drastically as well. There will be a continued trend towards comfort, functionality, entertainment, and connectivity that will transform driving and continue to feed into our growing need for multitasking. In effect, your car will just be an extension of your living room or office, with many of the same functionalities that you would enjoy at home or at work.
The conversation around AV has been dominated by how greatly it will impact the lives of able-bodied consumers. But we have not even scratched the surface in terms of mobility and accessibility. Elderly, visually impaired, or differently abled consumers currently have very limited options when it comes to transportation and mobility. With AV, their lives stand to be monumentally transformed.
During the early stages of the developing of AV technologies by the automotive industry, these life changing benefits were not necessarily at the top of the list of priorities. However, given the dramatic impact on the mobility and accessibility market and life changing experiences, this notion is increasingly coming to the forefront of manufacturers’ minds. This is why AV has the potential to transform so many lives. Imagine that you are an elderly consumer who has a doctor’s appointment. You get in the vehicle, head to your appointment, and the vehicle brings you back. No scheduling, no pickup, no municipal bus service. In addition, the vehicle may have the capability to read your vitals and securely share them with the clinic, well before you arrive. This will be a life-changing experience for consumers who currently struggle with mobility issues.
A rolling data centre
The smartphone industry has laid the groundwork for the smart car industry. Just as our phones share data with third parties, our vehicles will do the same. And it is not just a one-way street – the consumer stands to benefit from this technology in a number of ways. As I mentioned earlier, future AVs may be able to keep track of your vitals. If these cars are connected to the cloud, critical information gathered can be shared immediately through your connected car to the proper medical assistants alerting them of a possible medical issue.
The ability to capture huge volumes of information is immense. These vehicles will be capable of capturing just about every type of driver behaviour. Let’s imagine my AV in the future. My AV will know that I like to stop at a café every morning for a cup of coffee. Maybe the type of coffee I like and my favourite breakfast muffin are ready for me when I get there. The vehicle will know my destinations and origins, calendar, addresses, numbers, habits, driving behaviours, priorities, etc.
Looking into the future, there will be sensors in our cars, on the street, on road signs, on off ramps, at businesses along our journeys. The thought of our cars knowing that much about us may cause some trepidation, but the advances in convenience will be exponential.
Fewer trips to the garage
Another benefit of these vehicles will be a reduction in maintenance. AVs will proactively know of a potential issue and alert you that your car needs to be taken in. And in the future, instead of an indicator light coming on, the vehicle will drop you off at work and then drive itself to the garage. In this regard, automotive dealers stand to gain a lot. They will have insight into your cars’ needs well before you do, and when it drives itself to the shop, it will arrive with a list of needs to be addressed. The proactive nature of your AV will also allow dealerships to reach out and remind you that it may be time for an upgrade to a new vehicle.
We are starting to draw analogies between AVs and appliances of old. Washers and dryers are now designed with planned obsolescence. Will the AV industry model itself after smartphones, where you can keep the same phone but receive regular (and automatic) software updates? Will drivers of the future simply remove a chip and put in a new one with all the latest bells and whistles? These developments may drastically alter the new and used car market.
In addition to more efficient maintenance, the cars themselves will last longer. While this aligns with our collective push for sustainability, this means people may not be buying cars every two years like they do now. In the future, these vehicles may be much more expensive than current cars. How will manufacturers deal with this? It remains to be seen.
A more mobile world
Within 20 years, cars will no longer be operated by a human driver, which opens up many other interesting possibilities. The automotive industry will be less about driving and more about creating a third space. In fact, the word “driving” itself may become obsolete at some point, as the term “mobility” is slowly becoming the new darling of the automotive industry.
And as vehicles become smarter and more connected, the manufacturing industry will converge into a technology industry. It is a good thing that the smartphone market has given us a good 20, or so, years of experience to help us roadmap the future of the automotive industry. With so much data at stake, there is a significant level of pessimism and concerns from the public regarding the security of personal information. Continued education and transparency will be key in the years to come
We can build AVs, but, in the end, the consumer must want and trust them. Understanding consumer behaviours and continued education of the benefits of the future AV and mobility alternatives will be key. Although we may be in a period of transition, we are optimistic that the consumer will embrace the new autonomous vehicle world. Although this may take some time, we are confident we will get there. And when we do, chances are we will not be the ones doing the driving.