Experts predict autonomous driving by 2020
November 2013: Consumers now see technology as a major factor in the purchase of their car, according to Doug Newcomb, US author and car technology expert, who spoke at the recent Car Conference hosted at the Johannesburg International Motor Show (JIMS) and sponsored by Tracker. The result is that manufacturers are increasingly using technology as a key competitive advantage, thus requiring a mind shift of the entire industry.
Themed ‘Technology and Change’, the 2013 Car Conference pulled together multiple perspectives from thought leaders on rapid changes in economics, legislation, environment, competitiveness, labour and also a savvy consumer. Tracker spokesperson Rob van Rooyen said, “Technology helps us to address consumer needs more effectively and so Tracker has transitioned from ‘metal to flesh’, placing the driver’s changing needs at the centre of our focus. Along with recovering vehicles, we now use the same technology to offer a host of value added services to consumers, all of which improve safety.”
Safety & productivity take pole position
Industry is undeniably on the edge of a seismic shift, and the significance of urbanisation and increased congestion, twinned with the daily demands of our fast-paced lives, are playing a huge role in this change. Newcomb explained that for those living in busier cities, a Connected Car is no longer part of the transportation puzzle; it is a productivity tool.
While Google’s self-driving car has seemed like a pilot project to many, they promise a roll out by 2020, with three US states having approved legislation for self-drive vehicles. Seemingly futuristic features of these ‘autonomous cars’ include changing lanes autonomously, adjusting their course for any car in the proximity that may be veering, as well as parking themselves and managing slow-moving traffic jams without driver intervention. Newcomb said it’s no longer a case of ‘if’, but rather a case of ‘when’ – and requires dealer and OEM education to prepare for this reality.
Regarded as the face to the motoring public, The Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) contributes a significant 3% of GDP of the automotive industry’s 7%. RMI’s Jakkie Olivier explained that with 14 different associations, 18 000 businesses, and more than 280 000 employees the RMI “keeps SA’s wheels greased and running”.
Talking about the need for synergy between new vehicle technology and repair technology, Olivier raised the controversial Right to Repair Initiative, and stated, “Access to repair information is the single biggest challenge, given the approximately 8.5m vehicles, which are out of warranty. We have a new breed of technicians with knowledge of computers and technology, but no old-school understanding of how it all comes together.”
Mercedes-Benz SA one of four Daimler AG plants worldwide to produce C-Class in 2014
With the East London plant having won its fifth consecutive award this year for the top assembly plants in the Europe-Africa region in terms of new vehicle production quality, Mercedes-Benz South Africa is undoubtedly one of the technology leaders. However according to Martin Zimmerman, CEO and President of Mercedes-Benz South Africa the company’s success cannot be attributed to technology alone. Core company values illustrating that to improve production, you have to live it, are critical to continually adapting to processes, reviewing them and resolving problems, Zimmerman said. He added that in South Africa “opportunities are huge, you have to drive productivity to create jobs. The only constant is change, and you have to work with it in a positive way”.
Mercedes-Benz SA is currently preparing for the introduction of the next-generation C-Class in 2014. "As only one of four Daimler AG plants worldwide selected to produce the luxury vehicle, Mercedes-Benz SA will inject in excess of R2.5-billion into the local and national economy as it prepares facilities, infrastructure and human capital for the new model launch, " Zimmerman explained.
VW Uitenhage achieves 70% efficiency in waste management
Volkswagen, the globally recognised leader in sustainability employing solar, HEP and hydropower in its plants across the world, is also focused on developing technologies that offer real benefits to the driver, such as fatigue detection traffic sign recognition and fatigue detection. South African-born Oona Scheepers, now Head: Design Colour and Trim at Volkswagon (VW) in Wolfsburg, Germany, too cited the impact of urbanisation detailing the 24 megacities which total 400m inhabitants, and how their impact is creating road damage to the tune of 15 billion Euros. Now living in Germany, she imparted progressive industry initiatives such as social seating, a car sharing drive in which you share a lift with someone of a similar personal or business profile. In Germany those who car share, drive 31% less which saves 482 000 tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, back on home turf in Uitenhage, VW use an electrostatic system that has delivered 70% efficiency in waste management.
Brand Pretorius, highly acclaimed industry veteran, summarised the event highlights, “The motor industry is on the cusp of a technology revolution. There's a greater demand for safer vehicles and a move forward to a low-carbon future. As an industry we’re here because we want to understand the nature of this evolution, and the technology in our businesses“.
"We need creative people with the requisite knowledge and skills that are representative of those we are selling to. We have to be closer to our customers than ever before, keeping our finger on the pulse and investing more in market research. I'm advocating a more scientific approach. Customers have never been so value sensitive”.