A revolution is coming in the automotive world and, the more we see from them, the more we think that the mainstream manufacturers are going to get left behind.
GM, Mercedes, VW and Audi have finally embraced the electric revolution and they’re making great strides. We just have one nagging doubt. That is that they’re still building cars based around their own traditional values and a tech company is going to come along and ruin everything for them.
Apple has gone quiet, but it hasn’t given up. Project Titan is still alive and the company has a history of springing surprises and new products without any prior warning. Google is adamant that it’s building the driver, not the car. But if it has the driver then the car itself, with all of Google’s other technology and partners, really doesn’t present that much of a challenge.
When the car drives itself, we can throw most of what we know in the bin. Autonomy is going to change the game in ways that we really haven’t even considered and even some of the work going on right now is going to feel seriously redundant in just a year or two.
Cornering speed goes out the window
Just as an example, BMW, Mercedes and Audi have spent the last 100 years perfecting suspension systems, four-wheel-drive and other clever tricks to help the car get round a corner as quickly and smoothly as possible. Nowadays, even a mundane hatchback can hit the apex and hold the line at outrageous speeds.
But when the car drives itself, that will become instantly irrelevant. An autonomous car will stick to the speed limit, it just has to. So all that clever technology suddenly becomes meaningless.
An entry-level Kia or Skoda can hold the line like a Ferrari at legal speeds and even basic suspension is comfortable when you take it easy. So all that clever damping technology really won’t matter anymore.
Our priorities will change overnight, but to what?
Assuming we own our cars and with ride hailing schemes coming to the fore there’s absolutely no guarantee that’s going to be the case, we’ll only care about five things:
- User Experience
Common sense might tell us that price and comfort will be the deciding factors, but we beg to differ. We think we have the order right and and we have a pretty solid example to draw upon: The Apple iPhone.
When Apple revealed its game changer in 2007, it was seriously expensive and we simply weren’t used to the size.
There were fundamental and pretty serious issues with the first generation iPhone. It was expensive, the AT&T EDGE network was kind of awful, the operating system was buggy and the battery simply couldn’t support the iPhone’s ambition. It wasn’t even that good at making calls. Actually, it was pretty similar to the Tesla Roadster in a lot of respects.
In fact, these are the words that Bloomberg reporter Matthew Lynn probably wishes he had never written: “The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant.
“In many ways, that is a shame. The mobile-phone industry is becoming a cozy cartel between the network operators and a limited range of manufacturers. It could certainly use a fresh blast of competition from an industry outsider. It may come — but… it won’t come from the iPhone. Apple will sell a few to its fans, but the iPhone won’t make a long-term mark on the industry.”
Clamshells looked like antiques overight
None of the problems mattered. Suddenly the clamshell phones from Nokia, Motorola et al looked like dinosaurs. As for the ‘cutting edge’ Blackberry, even we almost forgot that one.
The establishment, the companies that had supplied our phones for years, were suddenly specks in Apple’s rear view mirror. And we’re waiting for the same level of disruption from self-driving cars.
Interiors will take over the automotive world
When the car truly drives itself, then the interior is what will matter and can we seriously say that the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Google and even Tesla will be at a disadvantage then?
We’re lumping Tesla in with the new crowd, it hasn’t been around long enough to become a part of the furniture and Elon Musk is a futurist. So we’re pretty sure he has something special up his sleeve and Tesla Glass could be the foundation for everything we’re talking about here.
That’s because your car is going to become a communication center, a mobile office and cinema and a fully connected masterpiece. It will be an extension of your home, your desktop and your phone. The outside world could become an integral part of your journey or an annoyance to be blanked out with technology, like pulling the blind on an plane and immersing yourself in a film. But better…
Traditional specs just won’t matter
Wheels, tires, suspension and brakes are going to become so utterly uninteresting that they probably won’t even feature on the spec sheet.
The car of the future will win the war with its self-driving skills, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, holograms and whatever replaces the touchscreen. That looks set to be ‘air tapping’ in Microsoft speak. Packaging, computing power and experience will take over from performance, handling capability and design.
Even the manufacturers that don’t get the self-driving system right will buy third-party options. So even that will cease to be important beyond the short-term. In the end, the interior, the experience and prestige will be everything.
Now these are fields that the leading tech companies have been working on since their inception. This is their battleground, their field of play. There can really only be one result.
Look at the likes of Google’s X, specifically aimed at moonshot technology, NVIDIA’s processors, Samsung’s VR tech and the Microsoft Hololens.
This stuff makes cars look mundane
This goes so far beyond cars that the kind of technology that could blow the main manufacturers off the road is being developed almost as a means to an end. Home entertainment and gaming is the driving force, but a tech company could build a kickass car interior with the parts it has lying on the workshop floor.
We don’t know what it will look like. We don’t know what tech it will come loaded with. It sounds like a cop-out and it might well be, but nobody knew what to expect from the iPhone until it landed in our laps and blew every other phone off the road.
Big manufacturers still know how to mass produce cars, but even manufacturing is changing beyond recognition thanks to 3D printing, robotics and great strides in material science that will render the traditional production line obsolete sooner rather than later.
They might hold some small advantage when it comes to quality control, but is that really going to save them from this kind of onslaught?
This is coming sooner than we all think
So technology is changing the game, fast. The general public is blissfully unaware of how fast this is coming, even though Tesla’s Autopilot is with us right now and Mercedes has introduced a series of driver aids on the new E-Class. We’re heading towards that tipping point and most of the major manufacturers, and we will include Tesla in this point, seem intent on rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
Power, performance and handling must fall by the wayside, right now, and the User Experience, augmented reality and more have to find their way into the cockpit. We need real world tests of these systems, in the hands of the end user, in bite-sized chunks.
We need the automotive equivalent of the first gen iPhone and even with Mercedes’ recent efforts and VW’s new focus on electric cars, we just can’t see it coming from the big guns.
Instead we expect a tech company to launch something so radical, so left-field and so out of the blue that we have to simply stand and applaud. The general public will be faced with a four-wheeled iPhone. It will be something they never knew they wanted, until they saw it on the showroom floor, and it will be something that none of us expected.
Read next: Faraday Future – Can we take them seriously?
And when it comes, the automotive world will never be the same again.