Autonomous vehicles were a hot topic at the Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference held earlier this year in South Carolina. Two of the more than two dozen presentations focused on their future.
Is meaningful infiltration into our culture decades away or just around the corner? Will there be an autonomous vehicle driving into your service bay any time soon? The opinions in the speeches varied.
Here is an abridged account on the subject.
Definition of autonomous
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International categorizes five levels of vehicle automation in the U.S. “Driver Assistance,” in which only the steering or acceleration/deceleration is driverless, is Level 1. The full-time performance by an automated driving system is Level 5.
In his presentation on “Autonomous Vehicle Market Forecasts and Challenges for Validation and Traditional Business Models,” Dr. James Popio, vice president of North American operations for Smithers Rapra, shared data from the latest Smithers market report, “The Future of Autonomous Vehicles and its Impact on Tire Markets to 2026.” He said there will be less than 10 million fully automated vehicles in operation by 2030 — and that’s globally. However, between 70 million and 80 million Level 3 autonomous vehicles will be in operation at that time. Another 30 million will be Level 4. (For perspective, there are currently more than 1 billion vehicles on roads worldwide.)
SAE International defines Level 3 as “Conditional Automation,” or “the driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.” Level 4 takes into account inaction on the part of the human driver to a request to intervene.
The future is now
Richard Smallwood, CEO and president of Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc., believes autonomous vehicles will significantly change the automotive industry sooner rather than later. In his keynote speech on “Preparing for the Impact of Autonomous Vehicles on Society and Industry,” he cites a number of OEMs that have announced autonomous vehicle availability within the next five years, starting with the next generation Audi 8 this year. “Uber and Volvo are testing AV ride hailing services today,” he said.
“According to IHS, sales of autonomous cars, including driver control, will begin by 2025, and could reach 11.8 million in 2035. Sometime after 2050, said IHS, almost all vehicles will be autonomous.”
The impact on the automotive industry will revolve around six issues.
1. Changes in vehicle ownership. “The most likely scenario is that private vehicle ownership will drop significantly,” said Smallwood. “New car sales could drop by as much as 40%!”
2. Move to more “utilitarian,” less passionate view of vehicles.
3. Changes in the scope of product liability. “Who is responsible when an AV crashes? And they will crash!”
4. Entrance of new competitors.
5. Redeployment of workforce. The redeployment could affect more than 8.5 million people.
6. What about tires? Smallwood said the most radical changes will be in distribution, with a shift from consumer purchases to fleet purchases.
Smallwood said we are likely to see Level 5 autonomous vehicles more rapidly adapted in large urban areas due to convenience, cost and mandates by the cities themselves. ■
Autonomous vehicle (AV) technical challenges
Before autonomous vehicles can begin to take over the nation’s highways, original equipment manufacturers will have to adjust to what Smithers Rapra calls “a disruptive business technology.”
There are multiple technical challenges that will need to be overcome, says Dr. James Popio, vice president of North American operations for Smithers Rapra.
1. How do AVs adapt to all weather conditions?
2. What role will the infrastructure play in the eventual success of these technologies?
3. How will legislation and standards be set to ensure a safe roll out of these technologies?
Popio says another question that needs answered is, How will new business models shift ROI calculations for OEMS, suppliers and consumers alike?