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Autonomous Vehicles: Changes Are Coming

With every passing year, there are fewer cars and trucks needing throttle cables, distributor caps and spark plug wires. Even if we have lost these service opportunities, we have gained twice as many in the past two decades.

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At a recent autonomous vehicle conference, one of the speakers said that if automakers switched to making autonomous vehicles today, it would take at least 22 years to replace 99 percent of the current vehicle population.

As the speaker talked about the latest vehicle technology, I began thinking about how much can change in 22 years. It is hard to imagine that vehicles rolling off assembly lines today will be gone in 2039 unless they’re stashed away by a collector, but this type of changeover is a fact of life.

All this got me thinking back to 1995. With every passing year, there are fewer cars and trucks needing throttle cables, distributor caps and spark plug wires. Even if we have lost these service opportunities, we have gained twice as many in the past two decades.

If you told my 21-year-old self in 1995 automakers were going to have sensors that measure live tire pressure as a standard feature, I would not have believed you. Electronic stability control was something that could be found only on a new BMW 7-series or Mercedes-Benz 600SL models, and only as an option. Now, it has been a government-mandated standard feature for almost five years.

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Other things that are commonplace today would have shocked me back then. Examples of this are the 10,000-mile oil change interval and coolant that can last 125,000 miles.

Looking forward to the next 22 years, it is clear the pace of change is only going to accelerate. Internal combustion is not going away. Instead, these engines will become turbocharged, direct injected, and get smaller, both in overall size and displacement.

Autonomous vehicles are coming, like it or not. But, fully autonomous vehicles are not coming for at least another 10 years. Sure, the technology to make a fully autonomous vehicle is possible, and such vehicles are being tested on the roads today, but society has yet to fully embrace robot drivers both legally and psychologically.

Telematics over the next 22 years will continue to connect vehicles to the Internet. The data generated by a vehicle with telematics will become one of the most valuable assets an automaker or service provider can own. Hopefully, the independent aftermarket will find a way to harness telematics to build a better business model before it is too late.

As profound as the 22-year life span can be, other shocking numbers about vehicle sharing could rewrite the frequency that some shops see cars in the future. According to some ride and vehicle sharing services, these vehicles are racking up to 14,000 miles a month. A ride share company that operates vehicles between California population centers recently claimed their vehicles typically cover 20,000 miles in a month.

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If you do the math, these shared vehicles will exceed the manufacturer’s bumper-to-bumper warranty in three months and a 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty in six to seven months. Can you imagine a three-week oil change?

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