August 15, 2017

Bumps and Promises for Automated Driving             
By Timothy Yerdon, Head of Global Marketing and Communications





If you’re navigating the future course of the automotive industry, you’re likely to find insight to help you steer at the annual Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars (MBS) in Traverse City, Michigan. This event consistently has provided a solid perspective and vision of where the global automotive industry is headed. Increasingly, that course leads toward automated driving, a shift that is filled with curves, bumps and promise.

It’s not surprising that more than 1,000 people from across the industry attended the MBS conference a few weeks ago. Executives from OEMs and Tier 1 and 2 suppliers, financial analysts from Wall Street, various industry analysts and automotive media participated in sessions that largely reflected three mega-themes for the industry: automated driving, vehicle electrification, and automotive regulation.

What will the technologies be?

The most widely discussed topic was automated driving and all its ramifications. One prominent financial analyst summarized the road ahead by saying he’s not fixated on what production volumes will be for automated driving. He’s more interested now in what will be the technologies for automated driving that will hit the market sooner and ultimately support fully autonomous vehicles. No one really knows when automated driving will achieve its goals and who will make money at it. This analyst suggested that, instead of focusing on the vehicle, OEMs look at the companies developing vehicle computing platforms, sensors and software. The value will be in the companies that can deliver those advanced technologies. These technologies will embed themselves in more conventional cars and trucks and eventually dovetail into fully automated vehicles.

An un-electrifying prospect for electrification

The second major theme was the continued interest in the electrification of vehicles. Much of the industry’s conversation has centered on pure electric, battery-powered vehicles with no internal combustion engines. Prospects are, however, that even in 2025 only 4 to 6 percent of the overall vehicle market will be fully electric. On a global scale, that’s a lot of cars and trucks, but it’s still a very small proportion of total production. Consumer preferences, legislative hurdles and costs for both automakers and vehicle buyers will combine to keep electric-car volumes low, so companies in the traditional powertrain business will need to reinvent themselves or face major business challenges. 

Standards to drive automated vehicles globally

The final theme follows inevitably from the others: regulation. What regulations will really drive the industry as automated and electric vehicles flow into the marketplace? We will need to develop global standards, as we have with current vehicles, so that the industry doesn’t find itself engineering varying components and systems for different geographies. No one will tolerate curtailing automated mode when their self-driving car crosses a state line because of a regulation. The most important consideration is not to add more complexity atop a technology that already is complex. All parties will need to negotiate and reach agreements to move legislation through more quickly than they have in the past, or risk holding back the autonomous wave.

Michigan as an Innovation Champ

MBS participants also learned why Michigan is such an important focal point for all these developments. A 2017 innovation scorecard from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) designated Michigan as one of its 10 “Innovation Champion” states. Among nearly a dozen reasons the CTA said Michigan earned this recognition were its business-friendly tax policies, a nearly 388,000-person technology workforce, the absence of laws restricting self-driving cars, and the state business community’s high level of investment in venture capital and research and development. Michigan ranks eighth in the nation for combined venture capital investments per capita and R&D per capita.

As I noted during a panel discussion at MBS on the Car of Tomorrow, those of us based in Michigan need to sustain these advantages, by continuing to be innovation- and technology-friendly. While views on how to best navigate the course of the auto industry may vary, ensuring that Michigan remains the hub for developing America’s mobility in the future is something on which just about everyone at MBS could agree.

Tim Yerdon is head of global marketing and communications for Visteon. Leveraging more than 20 years of experience in engineering and thought leadership in innovation, Yerdon fosters collaborative efforts with technology/industry partners and government agencies to advance growth beyond traditional automotive electronics into the future of connected and automated vehicles.

Yerdon serves on the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA™) Board of Industry Leaders and is vice-chair of CTA’s Vehicle Technology Division Board. He also chairs the MICHauto/Detroit Regional Chamber talent committee, and serves on the University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Industry Advisory Board.