Last month, Chris Mason noted that “the industry we work in is transitioning fast, moving even further away from the traditional, combustion propelled motor vehicles that we all grew up with, to an industry that will become more familiar, but will forever take us out of our comfort zone: the mobility sector”.
It’s been just over a hundred years, since the pioneers of our industry were first “Opening the Highways to all Mankind” and the days when Henry Ford famously once said “you can have any color you want as long as it’s black”. Now we not only have the choice of color(!) but we also find technologies in our vehicles that require today’s automotive engineers to be at the forefront of mechanical, electrical/electronics, software and controls engineering disciplines. The automotive industry really is a tremendously fun and exciting place to work and the progress that has been made over the past few years is remarkable – with considerable improvements in performance, economy, emissions, quality, safety (passive and active), quality and features and technology, all while vehicle pricing has held at very affordable levels and within reach of millions of customers around the world. While this progress is commendable, it may only be the beginning of what’s ahead of us.
Notwithstanding the current dip in oil prices, the trend towards increasingly more fuel efficient vehicles continues, with electrification becoming more common, whether in hybrid or pure electric form and we are seeing higher volume, more affordably priced vehicles in this category. Maybe though, the bigger challenge is mobility beyond the personally owned vehicle as we know it today. Driven by trends like urbanization, congestion, restricted parking and the practicality of vehicle ownership in highly populated areas, we are approaching a pivotal chapter in the history of our industry as the technology and business models transition to the ‘on-demand’ model or so called MAAS (Mobility as a Service). Whether it’s ride sharing, car sharing or multi-modal transport, the ecosystem is developing quickly and much of it is enabled through software and data analytics, presented to the consumer on a mobile platform.
While there are many years of growth in the traditional automotive industry, and many millions more vehicles to be sold around the world, it’s interesting to see the transition to MAAS business models developing and the mix of traditional and non-traditional players in this space.
This change will require different skills within the automotive engineering community and the engagement of all key parties to ensure the appropriate discussion and disposition of regulatory, privacy and liability matters.
The most often asked questions asked include “how long will this all take?”, “when will we see fully autonomous robo-taxis on our roads” and “won’t this take the fun out of driving?”. All great questions, but no simple answers. I thought this might be a good catalyst to start a discussion among members and other interested parties and look forward to reading your comments and hearing your views.