On the eve of the Detroit Auto Show, members of the Society of Automotive Analysts gathered for their annual dinner-and-forecasting Automotive Outlook event at the Gem Theater, about a mile away from the next day’s circusry. Steve Kiefer, GM’s VP of Global Purchasing and Supply Chain--who was fresh from the Bolt EV premier at the Consumer Electronics Show--promised “a lot of disruption in the near future,” and Phil Gott of IHS Automotive spoke of making vehicles “fun to ride” over fun to drive as autonomous possibilities become real.
Here are some of the ideas that were up for discussion and debate at the gathering.
Individual car ownership, which continues to grow, will begin declining with more car sharing, more fleet ownership of cars. Brian Johnson, head of Barclays auto analyst team, reiterated his prediction from last fall that auto sales would drop 40% in the United States in the next 25 years (and U.S. auto manufacturing plants consolidating from 30 to 17 plants). IHS’s Gott sees more shared mobility with congestion becoming a bigger issue in large cities around the world.
GM’s Kiefer said that with its $500 million investment/ partnership with Lyft’s ride-sharing service--which would use GM vehicles as a rental fleet for Lyft drivers--“we expect to completely change the ride-sharing environment.”
Light pickup trucks and luxury vehicles will stay strong. Light pickups will stay popular in rural areas when car ownership is otherwise declining, predicted Johnson. And families owning fewer vehicles in the future--a 2015 University of Michigan Transportation Institute study projected U.S. car ownership could decline from 2.1 cars per household to 1.2 if self-driving cars become an accepted part of the culture—could be a boon for the luxury market. With fewer cars, consumers presumably have more to spend on the cars they do buy.
There’s plenty of hand-wringing/soul-searching about whether the auto industry is innovative enough—or innovative at all. The industry is finally moving on autonomous technology, and it needs to do even more collaboration with technology companies and focus more on innovation. “Will OEMs be Kodak or Verizon?” Barclays’ Johnson ruminated, reminding the audience that Verizon began as New York Bell.
Vehicle-to-vehicle communication may not be the answer for the autonomous future. “Many of the efforts--GM, Google, Mobileyes’ efforts--are not looking at V2V or V2X, they’re relying on sensing data and privately generated mapping data,” said Johnson. “Vehicle to vehicle communication”— cars communicating to each other about where there at and what’s happening on the road—“may not happen. As long as you have 10 million old cars out there not connected, you can’t really depend on it for safety. The impression I got from many of the suppliers and some of the OEMs are giving lip service to V2V because the government’s interested in it, but they’re really trying to build a future that’s not going to depend on it.”
Kiefer said that GM is working with Mobileye to use its camera, combined with GM’s Onstar data, “to allow real-time crowd-sharing data to produce low-res maps.”