What is it that makes a person buy a particular vehicle? Cost, Brand Loyalty, Fuel Economy, Style, Power, Steering Feel, Safety? More often than not, to the customer, these are what define the character of a vehicle and thus comprise the primary reason for why vehicle OEMs are able to exist i.e. whether low cost or high style, 1ltr or 5 is your thing, there is an OEM that will cater for you, and there are enough of you to keep those OEMs in business.
Now let’s think about the autonomous car. The vision is autonomy but the mechanism of realisation of that vision, is STANDARDISATION. Everything from battery charging (whether charged dynamically by the road or by a commonised overnight plug-in) to the way in which a vehicle behaves given any particular situation, is going to have to be regulated and standardised if it is ever going to be practical, safe, robust, affordable and available to the masses, which it is going to have to be because despite the hype, a driverless car in a sea of human drivers, is none of the above, so sooner rather than later, we are all going to have to be driving one; it’s the only way to prevent us from rear ending the AVs.
Let’s face it…
AVs are taxis, and nobody except taxi drivers really care what taxis look like, and as you wont be driving, you won’t be buying one for the way it makes you feel when you do. So if the powertrain is standardised and there is no steeringwheel, what will be the defining characteristics of an AV? Space, Interior Decorating, Gadgets?
The world will not need a myriad of vehicle OEMs. A single manufacturer could make the single regulated powertrain, another could make the regulated body, a third could supply the wall paper and a fourth the TVs and coffee makers.
So if today’s OEMs are to outlive their own creations, they will either have to diversify and fight to become that single manufacturer, OR collectively slow down the race to autonomy, publicly accept that L3 is harder than they thought, L4 even more so, L5 is probably impossible given the constraints, and admit that everything above L2 is not in the best interests of the company, or at least not just yet and maybe not for another 5 to 10 years.
Assisting the driver to drive safer with well designed ADAS, rather than racing to replace the driver (whilst at the same time making them less capable in any given situation due to a lack of understanding of who is in control), may prove to be safer for us all.