The automotive market is constantly evolving to keep up with consumer demands as well as government regulations. In addition, major automakers are competing for business globally. These factors create an environment for innovation, driving the latest industry trends in connected and autonomous vehicles.
A connected vehicle simply means the vehicle is equipped with internet access and also typically with a wireless local area network, or use short-range radio signals to communicate. This technology allows the car to share information among devices inside as well as outside the vehicle. Although initially applied for occupant convenience and entertainment, this technology is expanding to include vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication to enable cooperative safety.
Autonomous vehicles are self-driving, or as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as vehicles without direct driver input or monitoring to control the steering, acceleration and braking while operating in self-driving mode. With the use of advanced sensors and on-board computers, these vehicles will be capable of transporting people or goods without the active participation of a driver or anyone in the driver’s seat. Connectivity and autonomy work together to provide the most efficient communication to operate a vehicle without a need for driver input.
All of this technology sounds promising, but automobiles are already large investments. The average vehicle cost has increased to more than $34,000, up 57 percent in the past 20 years, even though there has only been an average of 21 percent increase in new car buyers’ income in the past 20 years. Thus, the addition of sensors and other enablers for connected and autonomous vehicles will increase the price and jeopardize the affordability to the average household.
Because of the high cost of owning a vehicle, consumers are moving away from wanting to purchase a vehicle. This is especially true in large urban areas. Think about how often your car or truck is parked at home or while working, shopping or being entertained. The average vehicle is driven less than 300 hours per year, a total usage of four percent, meaning a car is parked for more than 96 percent of the time. Many consumers prefer to pay only for the time they use a vehicle, thus the creation of ride-sharing. This concept is being applied currently to rental cars and even ride-hailing services such as Uber or Lyft, and is expected to grow rapidly in major metropolitan areas where parking is costly and not easily accessible. In addition, insurance rates are higher because of the increased number of fender benders and theft.
Although heavily populated areas appear to be obvious choices for driverless, connected, and/or shared vehicles, people living in less populated areas may actually have longer commutes for work, entertainment and shopping. Without the infrastructure of public transportation, they cannot use their commuting time to reply to emails, read a book or catch up on a favorite show. They must pay attention and drive their vehicle. Autonomous vehicles will allow them more time to do other activities while their car is being driven without additional distractions.
The vision of driverless vehicles has been around for many decades, in fact as far back as the 1920s. However, only recently has enabling technology caught up to make this possible. There seems to be a race among not only traditional automakers, but also technology companies like Google, Apple and Amazon, to develop connected and autonomous vehicles. Driverless test vehicles are already on the road functioning as ride-hailing services in a few major cities. It will not be long until this technology is produced in high-volume production and for consumer purchase.
With the trend toward connected and autonomous vehicles, many questions arise. How will these technologies change today’s vehicle design and manufacture? Will vehicles look significantly different? Will there no longer be a need for safety features such as airbags, crashworthy structures and seat belts? How will this affect the purchase, leased or shared price of a vehicle? Will vehicles still require structural materials to meet performance demands? How will this impact repair?