Column: CASE vehicles and the bumps in the road
The start of a new year – and a new decade – is the perfect time to take stock of what’s been a success, and what’s been… well less so.
In the case of the automotive industry, the time for reflection seems particularly pertinent, given that the new decade appears to coincide with the need for a reality check on exactly how the future of the connected, autonomous, shared and electric car really looks.
Are connected cars safe cars?
CES 2020 just closed its doors, with a major theme of the automaker exhibits being user interaction technologies. Key amongst these is voice – with Amazon’s ever-more rapid move into the automotive space seeing its Alexa voice assistant weaving its way into more and more cars. Data issues are just one of the issues that spring to mind here…
There’s also the looming specter of safety and security of such technologies, as we discuss in-depth each year at our conferences on topics like ISO 26262 and SOTIF. Promises for connected cars are being made, and thus consumer expectations are again being raised, but given the development cycles of new cars, is there really time to ensure the tech is safe? We’re going to find out, and hopefully not the hard way.
OTA updates are also slowly becoming a reality – something that Tesla has been offered for some time, and other carmakers like VW are jumping on board with. The promise is great – park your car in your garage, go to bed, wake up and your EV has better pedal response perhaps, or maybe a few more miles of range.
However, while Jaguar has offered this with its I-Pace, you still have to go to the dealer for the update. The tech is coming, but the newness is causing some issues with delivery. All in, the connected car is coming, just in its own sweet time.
Autonomy gets a cold shower
When we did the research for our infographic on the earliest we could expect a fully autonomous Level 5 vehicle on the streets, given the hype, 2025 seemed like a reasonable expectation.
And while that’s still possible, albeit a stretch, the car industry does seem to have cooled its jets somewhat, redefining the message, and separating the increasingly-important SAE levels into two – Levels 0 to 3 are for ADAS, albeit with the confusing new addition of 2+ and the continuing proliferation of equally confusing naming strategies like Autopilot.
While we still see plenty of completely self-driving concepts from the OEMs, they remain very much that – previews of something that may or may not ever arrive.
Levels 4 to 5 are now some sort of goal somewhere over the horizon pursued more by the likes of Waymo and Uber as they hunt long-term profitability by finding ways to delete the driver.
Vehicles in the upper reaches of the SAE’s Levels spectrum are also increasingly of a commercial nature – take the Toyota e-Palette as the best example of this, rolling out at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and likely to feature heavily on the roads of Toyota’s Woven City project. Likewise, we should also mention Amazon again with its big investment in Rivian, including an order for 100,000 electric delivery trucks. Will these need a driver?
Is anyone caring about sharing?
The real rationalization has been the rather turbulent carsharing sector. Once vaunted as the savior of personal mobility and proven to reduce car ownership where it matters – in densely populated urban areas – the reality hasn’t quite been so kind.
Most recently – and brutally – Share Now announced that it is winding down its services in all of North America, plus Brussels, Florence, and London, by February 29. Yes, the best brains from BMW and Daimler in the field weren’t able to figure out how to encourage enough people to use the firm’s fleet of Smart, Mercedes, Mini, and BMW vehicles to offset the high running costs.
Essentially, the issue also boils down to why drive yourself, when an Uber can be had for a similar price, at a similar speed, and you don’t have to bother to park the car yourself when you’re done?
However, it’s unlikely that Share Now’s slimming down will be seen as a failure, more a strategic refocusing of how the business works, based on the monstrous amount of data already collected.
Obviously, Share Now keeps its information to itself, but the firm did put out a fact sheet before it shuttered its North American business confirming it had around four million members, and 20,000 cars. Importantly, it emphasized that it had 3,200 electric vehicles in its fleet, which make over 12,000 journeys per day, and have so far logged over 75 million electric-only miles driven. And that’s where the priority lies right now.
Electric dreams still alive
Combine the fallout from the dieselgate scandal with increasingly stringent emissions legislation, and the carmakers have no choice but to force on with electrification strategies.
As a result, it’s perhaps less of a surprise that resources – and all-important hype – are being focused on EVs. We’re not saying that connected cars, autonomy and carsharing don’t remain significant investment opportunities – Toyota welcomed 2020 with a rebranded and expanded Kinto carsharing service, for example.
However, it’s EVs that are emerging as the immediate priority among the four CASE topics. They must be made deliverable, as they make the biggest difference to a manufacturer’s bottom line – especially if they help mitigate the per car fines from the EU for breaching CO2 limits.
The past decade has seen the auto industry undertake a seismic and fascinating shift, with disruption coming from external factors like the advent of Uber, and from inside with the likes of dieselgate upending the VW Group and more.
This column takes a deliberately wide overview of the past 10 years of CASE to help illustrate that not all letters in the word are as equal as we perhaps thought – maybe casE is more accurate right now? – but it’s interesting to take time to look at how priorities are beginning to shift, thanks in part to ever-growing reams of real-world, consumer-generated data that helps to define the strategy and future direction the industry will take.
The 2010s have been a wild ride for the carmakers and all who work in the industry. Hold on tight for what the 2020s have in store!