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Sceptical about future of cars? It’s already here

The future will not be one of car ownership, but of ‘cars as a service’, say experts

Photograph: Joerg koch/Getty

A BMW i8 plug-in hybrid. BMW management say four pillars of innovation will underpin the cars of the future: automation, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility. Photograph: Joerg koch/Getty

 

It’s easy to be sceptical about the autonomous vehicles of the future, but only if you don’t realise how technologically advanced today’s cars already are.

New BMWs have an app on board that already enables them communicate with the outside world, independently of the driver, for example.

“We get notifications from each car about service routines or things like brake fluid changes, so we already have that independent connectivity with the car,” says Mark Bradley, head of business at Frank Keane BMW.

BMW’s electric i-cars allow drivers to lock their car or check fuel levels remotely via an app. You can even set it to your desired temperature before you get in. “It means that on a winter’s morning it’s defrosted and ready to go,” he says.

Management at BMW reckons four pillars of innovation will underpin the cars of the future: automation, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility.

The last makes particularly good sense. “If you consider how a car works now, it typically commutes to work, sits there all day and goes home again,” says Bradley.

The future will be not one of car ownership, but of “cars as a service”.  

“Cars will become more like a transport infrastructure and people will use them on a pay-as-you-go basis. They may replace buses.”

In the medium-term demand for ultra-clean diesels will remain strong among those whose annual mileage is high, and hybrids will play an increasingly important role.

But while full electric cars won’t suit everybody – yet – range anxiety is being addressed “and the next wave of ESB chargers will be a lot more powerful and faster,” he says, pointing to Norway, which has seen a massive shift towards electrification, as a trendsetter.

Benefit in kind

Here in Ireland, demand has increased since the advent of zero-rate Benefit In Kind (BIK) tax for pure electric vehicles. “It means that if you are a low-mileage driver, you can now run a company car and incur no BIK,” says Bradley.

Autonomous vehicles will be an even bigger step change, but in some ways they make even more sense. “You have to think of them in terms of the growth of megacities and the number of people due to move to them, as well as issues such as air quality. On top of that, the average 16- to 18-year-old doesn’t buy music, they stream it. They are not going to want to buy personal cars. And from a safety and efficiency point of view alone, autonomous vehicles make sense.”

Though not likely to emerge for individual use, they are being pushed hard by platforms such as Uber and Google. The question is whether it’s the car companies with their 100-year heritage of mass production, or the platform companies with their digital skills, that will win out.

Alternatively, the winner could emerge from leftfield. “There’s more than one industry looking at this. Vacuum machine maker Dyson is looking at electric cars,” says Bradley.

For their part, legacy car makers are embracing smart technology, and using it in innovative ways. Audi Ireland created a mixed-reality consumer experience to demonstrate its new A7, using a holographic tour guide called Simone to talk prospective buyers through its features.

Global first

Designed by innovative Dublin technology company vStream, it was a global first for Audi, and a good example of how car-makers are also using technology to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

“Our strategic focus is to provide the best customer experience, and, from the minute you walk into the showroom, the experience you have should reflect this,” says Richard Molloy, general manager, product and marketing at Audi Ireland.

“More and more people do their research online, so they have more information before they come to the showroom. They have invested their time in us, so our view is that we should make their visit the best possible experience for them in return. And, as the Audi A7 is packed full of technology, we wanted to tell this technology story in a more engaging, informative and even entertaining way.”

Next year will see Audi launch a fully electric car, an SUV, with two models to follow by 2020. It’s some way down the road towards autonomous vehicles too. The flagship Audi A8 already has the facility to become fully autonomous to Level Three specifications. 

The technology is there, he points out. It’s the regulatory environment that is falling behind.

Connected: It’s good to talk

It’s good to talk. In the future, it’s the cars that will be doing it while we sit, and possibly snooze, in the back.

“It’s all about connected cars, cars talking to each other,” says Karl McDermott, head of business ICT at Three. Much of what they say will relate to safety.  “The up and coming 5G networks will allow sub-milli-second response times, which means cars will be able to react immediately to any danger.”

There’ll be no keys.  Finger prints or iris scanners will be used to gain access, says McDermott. New generation VW vans – the iconic Scooby Do ones –already offer facial recognition security.

Once we’re in, the cars of the future will have windows that are active touch screens and voice control features similar to Amazon’s Electra. “You’ll say take me to work, and the car will know where that is,” says McDermott.

Makers are already installing GPS route-finder app Waze as part of their ‘infotainment’ features, in some cases it is being displayed on the windscreen. 

The connected, self driving cars of the future open up a world of opportunities for retailers too. These will be looking to engage with what is, at least for the duration of the journey, a captive audience.

“There’s already a dongle you can put into your car which enables you to find your car and can be used to get you cheaper insurance if you drive carefully and can be tied in to your Payzone account,” he says.