On a recent international flight, I sat next to an executive in the auto industry. Of course, the conversation including a long discussion of technology that is affecting car makers. The conversation centered around two topics:
1. Semi-autonomous driving is top of mind for most auto companies. He introduced me the phrase, “Advanced Driver Assistance System” (ADAS). There are systems that augment the driver’s capabilities, but doesn’t replace them. Examples are land departure warnings, cruise control that slows the car automatically if there is a car in front of you going slower, warnings if there is a car in your blind spot, automated parking and so on. These are enabled by a variety of sensors on the car. The problem is that one type of sensor by itself can’t give the system everything it needs to make good decisions. You need technology that integrates all the sensor data. The goal is to improve the overall safety of the vehicle. He cited Toyota as being a company with this as a focus. They have a stated goal of “creating a car that is incapable of causing a crash.”
2. The shift to Electric Vehicles is real. Of course, we talked about Tesla. His feeling was that Tesla fundamentally changed the industry’s thinking. Most car companies were content to drive incremental improvement in gas mileage, but were not really interested in electric vehicles. Tesla showed the industry that people will buy well designed, well built electric cars. Now, having an electric car is seen as a “must have” by most car makers.
What is really driving the change is the dramatic drop in the cost of batteries. Prices have dropped dramatically in the last 10 years and will continue to do so for at least another 10 years (see graphic). While batteries are getting cheaper, the availability of charging stations and the speed of charging will continue to make EV’s less attractive in many markets and applications. Tesla made a dent in the problem with the super-charger, but we still have a long way to go.
At the end of the flight, I asked him the following question, “What do you think is the real game changer in the next 10 years?” I was expecting him to say fully autonomous vehicles. His answer surprised me: “Flying cars.” He talked about Airbus’s new venture, Vahana, which already has a prototype in the air in Silicon Valley as well as another Airbus joint-venture with Audi.
More on this in a later article.....