The waxing and waning of our love affair, or even love-hate affair, with cars not only has an effect on our transport and purchasing decisions but a radical impact on the way in which urban environments are conceived and built. Streets, cars and parking facilities are fundamental elements in all city planners’ minds across the world at the outset of every project. And yet, it is concerns about cars – traffic congestion and the impact of their omnipresence on the health, well-being and quality of life for city dwellers or commuters – that has drawn tech firms and manufacturers into the urban planning mix.
‘On demand’ service and consumer models are nothing new to the transport industry. The Thurn und Taxi family made their fortune in Europe by inventing safe transport networks on a pay-as-you-go model. Fast forward to the now, and car sharing is a not-so-new phenomenon that is gaining currency (and increased visibility) in urban areas across the world. City planners in many developed countries are desperately trying to reduce the number of cars on their streets and intent on persuading consumers to forgo the luxury of an idle car parked in front of their door for a much cheaper car sharing option within a block. The numbers speak for themselves: in 2016, there were an estimated 44 million car sharing users in the United States; by 2021, this number will have doubled to over 86 million.
Car sharing is only made possible by digital IIoT solutions that monitor the cars, load their position and security details in apps, and detects faults and maintenance issues in the cars themselves. Ultimately, self-driving cars, the hottest and most controversial idea to come from the automotive sector the past decade, may eventually replace many of the car sharing options. Even taxis and many public transport links could be replaced by high-tech self-driving technologies.
MANUFACTURING THE CARS OF THE FUTURE
The inexorable move toward self-driving cars and the increase in car sharing options is also leading to dramatic developments in the automotive industry. On the one hand, environmental concerns (and regulations) are forcing manufacturers to move away from the combustible engine toward electric options; on the other car sharing and on demand driving, are bringing completely new players into the automotive industry (Apple, Google, and co.). Electric cars mean that battery technologies, power storage and power stations have also created an entire new challenge for manufacturers and city planners. IIoT solutions are key to exploiting the opportunities as digitalized monitoring, maintenance and security systems are required to facilitate the development of an electrical network expansive enough to make electric cars and car sharing an attractive alternative to even the hardiest car enthusiasts.
INNOVATION IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY
Hardly a week that passes without the announcement of some new technological advancement or innovation connected to electric cars or the service models that rely on digital IIoT systems. We can even build cars now using 3D printers. Some four years ago, the first 3D printed car – the two-seat Strati – was printed from carbon reinforced plastic and took only 44 hours to complete. New 3D printers meant that even the chassis could was printed. It will be some time before you can download and print your own Ferrari from a website, of course, but the example shows that automotive manufacturers need to be open to these new opportunities or risk losing the future market to newer tech players. Drop shipping, diversifying markets and regulatory change have also all had a major impact on traditional car manufacturing models. Any company now sitting on a huge stock of unsellable diesel cars is only too aware of the risks associated with traditional manufacturing logic.
AUTOMOTIVE PRODUCTION EFFICIENCY
While we are waiting for this future, there is still almost unlimited potential within the car production industry for increased efficiency and improved customer and market orientation. Increased efficiency of course means cheaper and more reliable cars. The digitalization of car manufacturing is not just about making savings but leaving systems in place that inform the maintenance and design processes. Smart cars improve over time as there are less and less faults. It goes without saying that better efficiency in production also reduces materials used and lessens wasted resources. Renault recently began recycling its car batteries by selling them on to the domestic power storage player Powervault, which uses them to store energy remotely in off-peak times and feed the grid during peak times. IIoT technologies and thinking create both new service and business models (buying back and reselling equipment) as well as facilitating the storage of energy (monitoring energy levels across the multiple storage locations).
Even traditional parts manufacturers and suppliers can benefit hugely from digitalization. Efficiency and savings can give managers control over production and the opportunity to explore new business models or product lines.
Digital transformation is not just improving automotive manufacturing or driving, it is also going to change the way we build and live in cities. Although much of the impetus for these changes has come from the negative impact of cars are having on urban centers, the new technologies are connecting us to a future where cars and car manufactures, people, and those embattled city planners will all profit from the digital transformation of transport.