Opinion: Automotive Technology is Changing but How Fast Do You Move?

by | Dec 4, 2017 | 0 comments

Andrew Ross, Publisher and Director of Content

There is little disagreement that the current pace of technological development facing the automotive aftermarket is dizzying.
From electrification and the connected car—vehicle-to-vehicle communication is already a rudimentary reality—to the autonomous vehicles that are currently undergoing pilot projects at various locations around the continent, around the world.
But with this massive shift, what impact will really be felt at the wholesaler level, and the aftermarket as a whole, and when?
That is the big question.
At least part of the answer has to come from our experience in the aftermarket to this point. Technological changes do not hit the aftermarket with rapidity, even when they do at the automaker and dealer level.
In studying the issue, one thing remains clear to those of us in the aftermarket and it is fact that many of the futurists currently making hay in the current frenzy seem to ignore: there are more than 20 million vehicles on the road in Canada using current technology, 10 times that in the U.S., and even if they stopped building them today, they would still be with us for a long time.
And they’re not going to stop building gas and diesel cars and trucks today, or tomorrow, or the day after that. Or the decade after that either.
A telling slide presented at the AAPEX Show in early November by Mary Gustanski, who will become CTO of the soon-to-be Delphi Technologies, should really bring this home.
As the current CTO of Delphi Powertrain Technologies she has presented a forward-looking analysis of the powertrain landscape over the next decade and a half.
The global outlook for vehicle sales looks something like this:
2017: Diesel and Gasoline, 93%; Alternative Fuels, 4%, Full and Plug-in Hybrids 1.99%; EVS, 1%; Mild Hybrids, 0.01%.
2025: Diesel and Gasoline, 66%; Alternative Fuels, 4%, Full and Plug-in Hybrids, 8%; EVS, 4%; Mild Hybrids, 18%.
With these projections, more than 95% of vehicles sold in 2025 would still have an ICE.
Gustanski speculated that even if the proliferation of EVS increased rapidly, from the 4 million projected sales in 2025, to more than 30 million worldwide by 20130, there would still be more than 70 million new vehicles sold with an internal combustion engine.
Other presentations over the past year have held the same long-range outlook, but that is often obscured by the frenzy to talk about coming technologies.
So this is the question then: with this outlook, how fast do you move, and how fast is too fast?
Sorely lacking right now is any kind of comprehensive roadmap, though there are pieces.
Yes, we know that autonomous vehicles are coming, but we don’t know exactly how quickly—a fact that may depend as much or more on regulatory frameworks as on a reliable technology platform—and we don’t know how people are going to pay for them.
One factor that can’t be ignored is the cost of these advanced vehicles; current speculation is that a shared-ownership model will be required, or that car manufacturers will simply retain ownership and lease them out to a group of owners, because one household won’t be able to afford one. Would you share ownership with your neighbours? I like my neighbours, but me either.
There may be more car sharing services, but personally I can’t imagine auto makers retaining ownership of 100% of the vehicles they build from cradle to grave. The financial exposure would be enormous.
To a lesser extent the same rings true of the connected car, which must have a public infrastructure to reach it’s full potential. And someone, that’s you, and me are going to have to pay for that. And we as an electorate may choose to say no, even if saying yes can have a greater good.
When people have had enough of the change, they do have the power to stall it, if only temporarily, and maybe even roll progress back a few years in doing so.
But we do already have many examples of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that rely on similar technologies and have already started partially taking over control from human drivers.
However, in a real-world check that should not be ignored, it is also true that drivers are turning off ADAS systems such as lane-departure warning systems as soon as the snow flies.
The fact is that the coming new technology vehicles will not be entering a clean-slate world. The automotive landscape is already a messy place with several eras of technology rolling across our roads, and sometimes into each other. And the aftermarket has always managed to figure out how to get them rolling again when they coast to a stop.
The aftermarket does need to prepare, through training, ensuring access to repair information and parts, and also maintaining a positive, confident approach to the future.
We must believe we can meet the challenge. Keep learning and preparing, but we certainly have some time, and many cars to fix along the way.

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