“I believe the auto industry will change more in the next 5 to 10 years than it has in the last 50.” – Mary Barra, Chairman and CEO of General Motors
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I first picked up a wrench for pay when I was 15 years old. Many of you know that I started my wrenching career back in the days when you had your car serviced at the same shop you purchased your gas from. At that time, the first few national auto service chains (Sears and J.C. Penney) were just being born, opening huge service centers in the same shopping malls that hosted their retail stores. And it was the end of an era, as the Feds and the California Air Resource Board began enacting regulations governing vehicle emissions, giving birth to the catalytic converter and unleaded fuel and suffocating the muscle cars that we loved so dearly.
|(Image courtesy of General Motors) GM’s CEO believes we’ll see more change in our industry in the next few years than we’ve seen in the last few decades.|
All told, I’ve been in or around the automotive industry for the last 45 years, so the comments made by Barra really got me to thinking. In that time, I’ve seen the industry evolve in some remarkable ways. I was there when electronic ignition was first introduced, when the first onboard engine controllers were developed, and witnessed the move from carbureted engines to throttle body injection, then to multi-port injection and now, gasoline direct injection (GDI).
I remember the days when you adjusted point gap and used a strobe light to line up the timing marks, rotating the distributor ever so slightly. Now, few cars even have timing marks and only the computer can make adjustments to the timing. Overhead cams were just coming to the market, at first from the Asian Invasion of small, fuel efficient cars Americans were buying as fast as they arrived on U.S. shores due, in large part, to the oil embargo that OPEC was holding over our heads.
Now we have multiple cams that adjust continuously to maximize engine efficiency across the load/rpm band and today, there is even a production car that can vary compression ratio “on the fly” to further improve efficiency. The smaller powerplants of today, many turbocharged, are producing more power per liter than ever before, getting more fuel economy than ever before, and lasting longer than ever before.
And, if many industry experts are correct, by the time I hit the 50-year mark, autonomous vehicles will be almost commonplace – most likely starting in our major cities as rideshare platforms. And by the time my new grandson is old enough to drive, he won’t have to. He’ll be able to summon his electric “taxi”, using an app on his phone, and he’ll be able to stream live entertainment to a screen in the cabin as the BEV takes him safely wherever he wants to go.
What is the impact on our industry today?
If the changes we’ve witnessed in the last 50 years will be surpassed in the next 10, what is the impact on our everyday business now? I think there are several we need to be acutely aware of.