Future of the Automobile Conference highlights

09 May 2018 | by Karl Smith

Last week, the Los Angeles World Affairs Council teamed up with the Petersen Automotive Museum to host the Future of the Automobile conference.

Most sessions of the conference were held in the galleries, which meant that attendees were surrounded by priceless Ferraris, Porsches and classic hot rods. The cars themselves, pushed to the corners of the rooms, kept a wary eye on the discussions of a future that neither they, nor many of us, will recognise.

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A discussion panel surrounded by Porsches old and new

Attending an event like this is an exercise that is both invigorating and frustrating. Big ideas are on the table, but no-one leaves with the hard questions answered, and there is generally no outline of a path forwards.

But, as one attendee told us at over lunch, “There are no solutions here, but it’s good to hear the ideas discussed, and gauge the direction of the conversations.”

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With that in mind, here is a dozen takeaways from the Future of the Automobile Conference:

1) We just need a few details from you...

Data was the buzzword of the day. Everyone seems to be collecting it, storing it, maybe learning from it. But what to do with it? How is it shared? No one knows, though protocols are in development. The temptation to keep collected data in private silos is strong. Knowledge is power. There has to be an incentive to share. It may be that data and analytics are ultimately more valuable than the car itself.

2) Establishing a connection

Data harvesting and sharing, and robust connectivity, will be critical for autonomous, and ‘smart cities’ technologies, as will the adoption of 5G – but as Jill Sciarappo of Intel noted, “We can’t wait for 5G or V2X communication for autonomous cars to be placed on the roads.” Google/Waymo have gotten the message, which is why their cars are the gold standard of autonomy.

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Jill Sciarappo, of Intel, seated at right on the podium, makes a point about AVs

3) Put the people first

Artificial Intelligence must become human-centred rather than machine-centred. ‘Intuitive Intelligence’ offers a way for on-board driver assist and autonomous systems to mimic the best driving practices and occupant preferences to make automotive travel of the future more efficient and pleasant.

4) Extra ICE

Streaming platforms will transform the car into a rolling theatre.

“In the future, sexy metal beasts known as automobiles will become high-end entertainment centres.” Ted Schilowitz, Paramount Pictures.

Disney family wagons? Netflix binge-mobiles? All within the realm of possibility…

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5) All-Access Pass

When asked who will win the race for the next generation of mobility, Rachel Nguyen of Nissan, said “whoever can pull together a seamless multi-modal transportation ecosystem across multiple platforms.”

“What everyone wants is a ‘Multipass’, like from the movie The Fifth Element; one card equals access to the whole mobility ecosystem” – Alex Roy, The Drive

6) No autonomy = No Ride Sharing?

"The e-hailing companies are making the huge investments in autonomy because their business model doesn't work unless they take out the costs of the driver and the fuel. It's being done out of a need to survive." Russell Hensley, McKinsey.

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7) The rise of the electric lorry

Increasingly restrictive emissions regulations, especially in urban areas, are making diesel an untenable power source in the future. Thor Trucks and Tesla are competing, along with others, to create a new generation of electric trucks.

Range is not an issue in most cases, as most large trucks spend their working lives traveling fewer than 300 miles a day. Recharging can be done in as little as 90 minutes.

8) Cooperating with cities

From Erik Antonsson of aiPod: “The mobility revolution is an urban story. OEMs are not optimised to sell in urban markets or to lead the mobility revolution in general. We must work with the cities themselves.”

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Ferraris, pushed aside for the day, keep a wary eye on the Urban Design discussion panel

9) Ready to serve

Cities need to stop seeing the elements of mobility as discrete objects, and start seeing them as services: data as a service, mobility as a service, and infrastructure as a service. Learning to organise manage these services is a prelude to a multimodal autonomous transportation fleet. That’s the essence of a transportation strategy plan prepared for the City of Los Angeles by Ashley Hand (second-from-left in the above image) of CityFi.

10) Made in China?

There were 90 million vehicles produced in the world last year and 30 million of those were produced in China. They have thus far absorbed their production of vehicles, but are increasingly looking to export to the US and Europe. China’s stated national policy to dominate in electric vehicles and AV technology. “We cannot underestimate the determination and ambition of China to lead in the auto tech sectors.” – Michael Dunne, Dunne Automotive, Ltd.

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11) Reality Check

Ride sharing (even with its explosive growth) still accounts for less than 1% of the total passenger miles travelled. “Ride-sharing to date is mostly taking the ‘second car’ away.” Russell Hensley, McKinsey.

Electric vehicle sales remain less than 2% of the worldwide market.

Autonomy is still in its primitive stages.

V2V, V2I, V2X, 5G and other connective technologies are still being developed.

The future of the automobile seems a long way away...

12) Here are the keys

“The ownership of a vehicle is a huge human rite of passage. More people share the cultural rite of passage of getting a driver’s license and driving a car (and having the freedom of a car) around the world than any other event in human history.” – Alex Roy

Finally, a couple of quotes to close:

Jeffrey Cole, Director, Centre for a Digital Future, USC: “Driverless cars are going to change the world. In 60 years our grandkids will marvel that we allowed people behind the wheels of machines that killed so many.”

Jill Sciarappo of Intel: “I love this industry. It’s why I call it the Game of Thrones: you never know what’s going to happen.”

Photos courtesy of Los Angeles World Affairs Council