The Automotive Industry Hasn’t Begun to Realize Real Disruption Yet
Forget about Tesla, Uber, and those self-driving cars we’ve seen on the road in certain cities around the country and globe. While these companies and technologies are helping to shape the future of mobility, they’re only one tiny step towards the type of disruption that auto manufacturers will come to know. And that’s exactly what Shift AUTOMOTIVE—the new biannual show backed by IFA, the Geneva International Motor Show, Palexpo, and Messe Berlin—set out to explore at IFA 2018 in Berlin this week.
Right from the opening keynote, you could tell that the conversations held during this side event were going to be both thought provoking, but also realistic in the direction that they were pointing the audience.
At present, the way we think about disruption in the automotive industry is through electric cars (upending the need for gas), services like Uber (which are challenging the need to own a car), and Tesla (which is challenging the way cars are sold). And, of course, we can conceptualize the impact that self-driving cars will have, but we as consumers of cars are not quite there yet.
That said, major players in this space seem to be well in tune with where the industry is heading, and they’re doing everything they can to keep themselves ahead of or on pace with the curve. Take the BMW Group, for example. The company has a well known range of brands in its portfolio, from the flagship brand, to the M Series, to Mini, and Rolls Royce. But there’s an underlying brand within the BMW Group that is helping to lead the charge across the entire portfolio, as the company preps for future ingenuity: Designworks.
John Schoenbeck, the director of strategic partnering at Designworks, used his platform at Shift AUTOMOTIVE as the opening keynote to paint a picture of the direction the automotive industry is heading, how vastly different it’s going to be, and why auto manufacturers need to start paying attention to these changes before it’s too late.
Simply put, Schoenbeck warned, car manufacturers are going to have to go through a paradigm shift in the way they think about their role. Whereas today they focus on mass-producing automobiles, they’re going to have to start thinking about mobility as a system and where the car fits in that system. Sure, there will still be a need for hardware (the car) within that system. But the role of software becomes increasingly important, as it has already. So then, where do car manufacturers go when it comes to the software? “Are we generating the software?” Shoenbeck asked. “Or do we need partners to help us develop that software?”
The way Shoenbeck sees it, the crash course that the automobile industry is on with consumer technology and, in particular, the Internet of Things, there could be a day when the car becomes integrated into a smart home’s security system. Forty percent of all burglaries happen through a garage entryway, he said, so why wouldn’t the car be used as an anti-break-in tool or some sort of alert system?
But the shift in the way manufacturers will have to think about the automobile goes way beyond what kind of technology they can integrate into the vehicle. The design of the car itself is going to be revolutionized as autonomous driving technology improves and ultimately replaces the need for a real-life driver. The car, Shoenbeck said, will slowly transition from a driving machine, to a digital device, to possibly a lifestyle space. The interior of the car could look profoundly different in the next five, 10, 20 years as manufacturers integrate things like gesture control, touch sensors, and whatever other user interface mechanisms they opt for—and that ultimately replace the steering wheel.
Thinking even further into a fully integrated mobility network, Shoenbeck alluded to a day where cars could somehow integrate with railways and other means of transportation to create a sort of mega-mobility network. It’s a concept that made ears perk up, but it’s something Designworks is already looking into.
And, of course, we haven’t even touched on the impact all of these new systems and technologies will have on things like insurance, infrastructure, and policies and law. So while the automotive industry (and many others) may feel all dazed and confused with the new technologies and systems that are already disrupting them right now, the discussions held during Shift AUTOMOTIVE at IFA 2018 prove that we’re really just scratching the surface.