Charlie Butterfield, May 1, 2019

What will cars be like in the future? Will we be flying through the air, navigating skyscrapers and cutting through clouds? While the car industry is rapidly advancing, it seems more likely that reducing pollution, sourcing renewable energy and building a sustainable future will be the highest priorities.

Working closely with clients such as TRACKER™ and Avis Budget Group, we have a vested interest in learning everything we can about the future of the automotive industry – which is why we attended the FT Future of the Car Summit 2018. This Financial Times Live event featured discussions around the logistics of a world with autonomous vehicles, how manufacturing processes will impact supply chains and the challenges of data security.

With the power to reduce air pollution and simplify the driving experience, it’s no surprise that numbers of electric cars are already on the rise. This falls nicely in line with the EU’s commitment to reduce emissions by 80-95% – an ambitious goal that brings a few considerations to mind. As cars lose their combustion engines, become automated and gradually transform into computers with wheels, OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) will be forced to adapt their offerings from providing parts to providing software and data. This is known as ‘Mobility as a Service’ (MaaS) and is already being considered by many OEMs. Andreas Tschiesner, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company, explained how this new landscape will have 5 layers or touchpoints to provide connected experiences to consumers:

Infrastructure > Supplier > Producer > Provider > Platform owner/Integrator.

For companies like TRACKER™, who are the leading experts in stolen vehicle recovery, the emergence of MaaS will require them to change their hardware products into software add-ons. This, in turn, creates further challenges when it comes to data security. Currently a hot topic, thanks to the recent GDPR regulations, data security for autonomous cars with ‘learning’ behaviours will need to be practically impenetrable before they can become mainstream.

In addition to these manufacturing and security impacts, autonomous vehicles will also affect the ways in which cars are used and owned by consumers. Speakers at the summit frequently referenced the ACES framework – Autonomous, Connected, Electrified, Shared – which paints a vivid picture of future cars.

The definition of autonomy itself has been broken down into four levels: feet off, hands off, eyes off and brain off. Only the latter would be considered a truly autonomous vehicle. Functioning almost like a mobile living room, these ‘brain off’ cars will provide a world of possibilities. Though we currently rely on cars for freedom and independence, they spend an average of 96% of the time either parked on drives or car parks. Autonomous cars will allow us to share cars with family, friends and colleagues. Picture your car dropping you off at work and then doing the school run all by itself!

Exciting as this may be, it also poses the question of if we’ll need to own cars at all. Many experts in the automotive industry suggest that most people will switch to flexible car hire models that can be tailored for their needs. As an example, people may hire a sports car for their working week and a family SUV for weekend camping trips

For companies like Avis Budget Group, the sharing model is a very applicable approach to how we might get around in the future – almost like a sophisticated version of UBER. Of course, it may take a bit more time for rural areas to adopt it and cities will face unique challenges of their own. Seleta Reynolds, General Manager at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, believes autonomous car sharing can only be possible with a seamless integration to public transport, requiring significant changes to city infrastructures and logistics.

This brings us the to the key question: when? When will we see electric vehicles replace combustion engines? When we will see a world of fully automated cars? While it’s clear that the industry is advancing very quickly, there are many variables that make the answer uncertain. Certainly within the next 10 years, the number of electric vehicles will be significantly higher. Volvo has already pledged to stop manufacturing combustion engine cars by 2019. As for autonomous cars, it’s likely that cities will initially build ‘autonomous-only’ zones that human-driven cars will not be able to access.

Regardless of when this may be, the future of the car will be dictated by consumer behaviours, shifts in manufacturing and heightened safety regulations. And before any of those elements begin to shape the way we get around, we need to be able to trust the technology. Each city will require different technical solutions to accommodate new breeds of vehicles, but we must first find a way to safely integrate human and machine interaction.