Its clear by now that the automobile industry is changing rapidly. The way we drive, interact with, and experience transportation will look and feel completely different by the end of the decade.
I had the opportunity to listen to industry leaders discuss the evolving automobile landscape last week at Silicon Valley Leadership Group’s annual Driving Charged and Connected Summit at SAP in Palo Alto. I showed up a bit late, unfortunately missed breakfast, but sat down just a couple minutes into the keynote plenary panel, “The State of the Connected Vehicles Market in 2015.” With representatives from the North American auto industry, this panel dug into several key topics:
- New services, products, and technology are enabling a new breed of automobile
- Interoperability with smart phones is a critical integration
- Connectivity is key enabler for car sharing and autonomous driving
When successfully integrated, these changes will enable an entirely new vehicle and transportation ecosystem. The auto industry is finally looking for new technology to incorporate into its vehicles, but it hasn’t been easy for the century old industry to make moves towards the connected car. Bret Scott, Head of SV Future Technologies at Fiat-Chrysler, described it like trying to get your grandmother to try a new food. Despite its old-fashioned habits, the auto industry is still staring down the barrel of the largest change, and potential disruption, it has ever faced since the invention of the internal combustion engine. If the auto industry doesn’t adapt fast enough, technology companies may start producing vehicles of their own.
The first breakout session I attended was about the long-range electric vehicle (EV). Moving from early adopters to early majority will rest heavily on auto-makers boosting the range of their EVs. Other panels included discussions about smart cities, the internet of things relating to the connected vehicle, and EVs increasing role on the grid. During the “Sustainable and Profitable Business Models” panel, we heard from VeriFone, UPS, ParkMobile, and ZipLine. It was interesting to hear how each of these fairly different companies are using connectivity in their respective industries to improve efficiency. ParkMobile, for example, is an app that allows drivers to find and pay for parking with their smart phone. Users are also able to remotely add time to the meter, as well as set reminders for when a meter is close to expiration. Innovations like these are changing the customer experience and turning the tables of the transportation sector.
The crucial takeaway from the event was a thought experiment. This wasn’t the first time I had heard it, but I find to be extremely useful and exciting: If you imagine a scenario in which electric vehicles are combined with autonomous driving and car sharing, an entirely new picture emerges. This trio of technology will make for a fundamental paradigm shift in transportation. Owning a vehicle wont be necessary, because they will be housed in central depots, charged overnight, and will drive themselves to you when needed. Vehicles may end up being sold as a subscription or a service rather than a product. Regardless, the future for automobiles is bright, and over the next few years, we will watch one of the more exciting and innovative mobile devices emerge: the connected car.