Vehicle technology trends usually happen very slowly and often include unpredictable innovation. To truly succeed, a variety of often seemingly unrelated inputs are required. Connecting the dots looking backwards is easy. As we look forwards, can we connect the connected, automated and electric vehicle technology dots to drive a new vehicle paradigm?
The question for consideration is: are they becoming one and the same? Is connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology reliant upon full electrification, and is full electrification reliant upon automated and connected technologies to gain most complete acceptance? Clearly, both technologies can exist without the other, but can they fulfill their loftiest expectations with a partnership of automated, connected and electric (ACE)?
Is connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology reliant upon full electrification, and is full electrification reliant upon automated and connected technologies to gain most complete acceptance?
As gas prices skyrocketed a decade ago, those working on driver assistance, and early CAV technologies scrambled to position their technologies as a means to more efficient driving. Whether through route planning, or reduction in crashes and thus more efficient traffic flow, reduced emissions and increased fuel economy, CAV technologies were positioned as an important tool for a more efficient vehicle. If, as one presidential candidate at the time envisioned, there were going to be a million battery electric vehicles (BEVs) by 2015, it was argued that automated and connected technologies could be an important asset in making it happen.
Flash forward a decade, and CAV technologies have become the next great thing. They bring the opportunity to massively reduce automotive-related deaths and injury, potentially democratise mobility, and even bring about a new way of thinking about the automobile. Many advanced powertrain discussions now include automated and connected as a foundation part of the messaging. CAV technologies are front and centre in changing the way consumers view the future of the automobile. No longer is CAV playing second fiddle to electrification – in many ways, it has become an equal partner in any discussion of future automotive pathways.
Tesla is seen as a leader in deployment of electric vehicles. It is also the most aggressive in implementing conditional automated driving technologies. This combination of real and perceived technology leadership has given Tesla a unique marketing position, and unmatched real-world learnings from conditional automated driving. Certainly Tesla has struggled to deliver profits, but it has been phenomenal in delivering a vision, leveraging regulatory credits, creating a buzz, and maybe even laying the foundation for change.
From a market position opportunity, many companies are attempting to garner some of the hype and have made ACE the vision for market success. Volkswagen is proactively positioning the I.D. Buzz – the OEM’s re-imagining of the VW microbus – as an automated, connected and electric game-changer for the company. It serves as the company’s star candidate for testing how the consumer might react to the technology innovations. Currently a concept, VW has confirmed that a vehicle based on the I.D. Buzz will go into production in 2022.
Tesla is seen as a leader in deployment of electric vehicles. It is also the most aggressive in implementing conditional automated driving technologies. This combination of real and perceived technology leadership has given Tesla a unique marketing position, and unmatched real-world learnings from conditional automated driving
Smart Chief Executive Annette Winkler may have best summed up the blurring of previously distinct connected, automated and electric technologies during her introduction of the smart vision EQ fortwo concept vehicle: “The smart vision EQ Fortwo is our vision of future urban mobility; it is the most radical car sharing concept car of all: fully autonomous, with maximum communication capabilities, friendly, comprehensively personalisable and, of course, electric”. The two visions of CAV and BEV are becoming one.
Meanwhile, General Motors recently built 130 Chevrolet Bolts with automated technology for on-road testing. The Bolt has also been placed into service for Maven, GM’s car-sharing programme. While Cadillac is clearly GM’s point for conditional automated driving technologies, the fully electric Bolt is serving as its showcase for testing fully-automated driving.
CAVs are ACE
Ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft are also playing at the nexus of ACE. For these business models, the opportunity for real cost savings comes from getting rid of the driver. Once the need for a driver is eliminated, the vehicle will have to charge itself. For that, electric vehicles seem to have a more viable pathway. Companies such as Qualcomm, Plugless Power, and others are working to develop and deliver inductive charging which may enable cars to recharge without driver intervention.
The early choice for inductive charging is generally 3.36 kW, with most usage for residential charging. However, 6.6 kW inductive charging, delivering the ability to charge larger long-range batteries overnight, is a likely near-term progression. Realistically, inductive charging is not a mass-market near-term solution. Cost and other factors will limit early adoption. However, it will likely be an enabling part of a successful ACE rollout.
The interaction between automated and connected, and electric is more than merely marketing. Increasingly, manufacturers are moving engine and driveline accessories off the alternator and replacing them with electric motor-driven devices. Whether steer-by-wire, throttle by wire, or water pumps and other accessories, electrically-driven devices may create more freedom for automated vehicle implementation, offering yet another symbiotic relationship for ACE. It is not a coincidence that many start-up companies have used the Prius as the basis for their demonstration efforts. The Prius already has drive-by-wire and other electric accessories.
The development of ACE technology is also bringing new entrants – or at least hopeful new-entrants – into the game. The relative simplicity of the electric vehicle platform allows those that may not have longstanding vehicle engineering capabilities to get in on the game
The move to fully electric may also fundamentally change vehicle design. Removing the gasoline engine from the vehicle, and replacing it with electric motors gives designers enormous freedom. Removing the steering wheel amplifies that freedom.
The development of ACE technology is also bringing new entrants – or at least hopeful new-entrants – into the game. The relative simplicity of the electric vehicle platform allows those that may not have longstanding vehicle engineering capabilities to get in on the game. Start-ups and consumer electronics companies from Silicon Valley, China and elsewhere have entered the vehicle manufacturing discussion – some of which have strong engineering resources and intriguing business models, while others may not yet have defined a business case or identified a differentiator. Google (then subsidiary Waymo) has been the leader in developing and testing automated vehicles, first with converted Toyota Prius vehicles, then with its own small fleet of specially built BEVs, and now with partner vehicles. For a while, Apple was seen as the next big entrant; it seemed only logical that a company with that much money and an uncanny ability to develop electronic products that people are passionate about could successfully transition to an ACE vehicle giant. Clearly, Apple’s ACE vision has changed, as many of its development team have moved on to Zoox, a start-up focused on the ACE shuttle service model. However, Apple may still prove to be a strong ACE player in the coming years.
There is, at least, one very important mid-term negative: ACE technologies are adding cost to vehicles. With the price of a vehicle in the US around US$37,500 in the summer of 2017, new vehicle affordability is a major concern. Adding ACE technology is likely to markedly increase prices even further, at least in the short term.
ACE will dominateWidely quoted Stanford University professor Tony Seba predicts ACE will dominate within the next decade, and even eliminate the sale of internal combustion engines by 2030. Seba opines that the two technologies will redefine transportation, and the automotive industry by 2030. While this may include an element of futurist hyperbole, the point is intriguing. Individually automated and connected vehicles, and electric vehicles are rapidly advancing to change the industry. Combined, ACE presents what may be change unprecedented.
This article appeared in the Q4 2017 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine.