OnBoard Winter 2016 - page 14

ON
BOARD WINTER 2016
14
“Customers are willing to pay significant
sums for the perceived benefits of stress
reduction and safety that come with
autonomous driving.”
The increasing influence of technology is certainly
creating a more innovative car; but will it cause a
disruptive dismantling of the automotive manufacturing
industry as we know it? The answer hinges on how well
manufacturers and entrepreneurs harness technology
— and intelligence — to keep the industry aligned with
consumer interests. Driving tools like Google Maps,
GPS navigation and en-route traffic management apps
like Waze, along with usage-based vehicle and driver
tracking devices, are generating a wealth of data that
auto manufacturers could tap into for R&D.
For these reasons, partnerships with a host of players,
familiar and new, have the potential to re-draw the
boundaries of the automotive ecosystem. This expanded
network would encompass all stakeholders — automakers,
parts suppliers, software developers, insurance
companies, hi-tech and environmental engineering
firms, and Internet-of-Things entrepreneurs.
For their part, automakers appear to have been heeding
the call for change, courting innovations that will build
the greener, safer, friendlier, more connected vehicles
that consumers want. Eco-conscious, reduced emission
electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles moved into mass
production in recent years. Plug’n Drive, a non-profit
committed to accelerating the adoption of electric
vehicles, lists 14 different models of electric car currently
available for sale in Canada. The Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf
and Tesla Model S take the podium as popular bestsellers.
But, according to the Pembina Institute, only about
11,000 electric vehicles have been sold in Canada since
2011. That’s 0.27 per cent of total market vehicle sales.
Conversely, consumer interest appears high in the
automakers’ much-publicized autonomous or self-driving
car of the future. CapGemini reports that customers are
willing to pay significant sums for the perceived benefits
of stress reduction and safety that come with autonomous
driving. Around 79 per cent of those surveyed expressed
an interest in a self-driving vehicle, and 80 per cent of
those would pay more for it.
Automakers do not intend to disappoint. Ford CEO Mark
Fields reportedly announced that fully autonomous
cars will be available for use on U.S. roads (where high-
definition maps are available) as early as four years from
now. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, declared fully autonomous
cars “two to three years away.” Both companies leapfrog
Google’s timeframe by a year. Indeed, Tesla has been
incorporating autonomous driving elements into its
models for some time. Up to 700 drivers have been
road testing the feature already. Not to be left behind,
Toyota has also said it will hit a timeline of 2020 to put
autonomous cars into mass production. Already, Ontario
has committed to allow driverless vehicles to be tested
on its roads as early as next year.
Recognizing that their industry could change more in the
next few years than it has over the last half-century, auto
manufacturers are also making bold new investments. In
November, Toyota announced a $1 billion seed investment to
establish an artificial intelligence research company, Toyota
Research Institute (TRI). With locations near Stanford
and MIT, TRI is expected to employ 200 researchers and
engineers focused on solving personal mobility problems
through the use of next-generation robotics.
General Motors saw the coming disruption and chose to
embrace it, with an aggressive R&D agenda, collaborative
partnerships and groundbreaking pilot programs. Its
strategy in response to the challenges and opportunities
facing the industry is captured in a mandate delivered by
their CEO, Mary Barra: “Our goal is to disrupt ourselves,
and own the customer relationship beyond the car.”
GM appears to be doing exactly that. The company has
embraced the ‘connected car,’ securing almost 500 patents
in the area of vehicle connectivity. Today, GM claims to
have over 1 million 4G LTE (advanced wireless network)
customers on the road in North America. By comparison,
their statistics indicate their combined competition
has just 25,000. In Canada, GM is hiring 100 software
engineers and is engaging a growing network of
Canadian universities, accelerators and suppliers.
At its Canadian Engineering Centre in Oshawa, GM is
developing and commercializing future technologies with
companies like Magna, transportation data giant Lixar and
hybrid vehicle specialist Crosschasm, as well as research
partners, like the University of Ottawa. The goal is to create
an ever-expanding hub of innovation.
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