?I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it.”
? Carlos Ghosn, CEO Nissan Motors
Romance of the road
What?s going to happen when the ?Ultimate Driving Machine? becomes the Ultimate “Driver-less” Machine?a/k/a a robot chauffeur?
When there is no wheel to be behind or pedal to push to the metal, what then of the allure of driving? Is the automobile to become just the ultimate in rubbernecking dream car, albeit “safe” rubbernecking dream car?
Ad agencies are already thinking about the implications of selling a self-driving vehicle to car buyers?minus the standard sizzle of the product being a fun driving experience. Nissan?s Ghosn has his agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Los Angeles, getting up to speed well in advance of his predicted 2020 product arrival date.
Let?s not doubt Ghosn?s predictions, either: “In 2007 I pledged that?by 2010?Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle. Today, the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric vehicle in history.”
Successful predictions like that are enough to keep agency art directors up at night brainstorming ideas on how to make a sleek cosmopolitan couple in their roadster look cool and sexy zooming along a mountain road?when, in actuality, they are merely passengers.
Pondering along with the agency was a recent column in Advertising Age: ?The rollout of true, self-driving cars would inevitably rewrite the rules of car and truck advertising,” warns the article. “So much of today’s automotive marketing revolves around the notion of a vehicle swiftly and surely responding to the expert (in car commercials anyway) skills of the driver.
?See BMW’s long-running ?Ultimate Driving Machine? brand positioning, which celebrates the exhilarating feeling that drivers get behind the wheel of a nimble, high-performance car. Or the hundreds of ads featuring a car rolling down a winding road.
?And in America, when cars aren’t sold as highly-sophisticated driving machines, they’re often marketed based on concepts of individuality and fun.?
Of course, Nissan’s not alone in a ten- to twenty-year prediction for self-driving cars as a daily reality on streets and freeways: Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Google, Audi, Volvo, Bosch, and Continental are working on self-driving technologies; all of which have research facilities?some in Silicon Valley?working diligently on taking steering wheels out of human hands.
Last year, reports Navigant, “Google co-founder and special projects director Sergey Brin said self-driving cars will be a reality for ‘ordinary people’ in less than five years. Among auto makers, General Motors plans to introduce a semi-automated Cadillac driving system in 2015.
We’ll know when we’ve really arrived when Fast & Furious 12 shows Vin Diesel barking racing orders at a dashboard.
U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller held a hearing in May on the advance of this new driving paradigm: ?It?s vital that Congress understand the safety benefits, but we must make sure that these systems are reliable and secure, and don?t add to the numerous distractions already in cars.?
The Senate needs to hurry. Come 2020, which is a mere seven years off, what then, when driverless Nissans start rolling into dealers? lots?
With multi-million dollar profits for automakers looming just up the road and maybe thousands of new jobs as well, does Congress have the moral will to do the right thing by drivers through legislation or will it allow trial and error in the marketplace to evolve self-driving technologies?
What driver would ever want to be the error in such trials?
Autonomous vehicles: 75% of all light-duty vehicle sales by 2035
Added to the mix is a recent study from Navigant Research forecasting that ?autonomous vehicles will gradually gain traction in the market over the coming two decades and by 2035, sales of autonomous vehicles will reach $95.4 million annually, representing 75% of all light-duty vehicle sales.?
?In North America,? says another report from ABI Research, ?the first driverless vehicles will appear in the beginning of the next decade, evolving to more than 10 million robotic vehicles shipping in 2032.?
?Automotive safety experts have predicted,? continues ABI?s predictions, ?that autonomous vehicles could cut down the millions of accidents caused by driver error, drunken driving and distracted driving.
“Deaths from motor vehicles crashes rose 5.3% to 34,080 in the U.S. during 2012, according to a statistical analysis by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released in May.?
That stat is ominous considering the previous six-year decline in auto fatalities.
Put away those driving gloves
“You won?t need a driver?s license by 2040.” ?Wired Magazine, quoted Forbes? Jim Motavalli in his Self-Driving Cars Will Take Over By 2040
His article cites the following reasons:
- GM?s Cadillac division expects to produce mass-market partially autonomous cars by 2015;
- Audi and BMW have shown self-driving concept cars, and Audi had a TT drive itself up Pikes Peak.
- BMW has an interim technology called ConnectedDrive Connect that offers semi-autonomous driving. The company says it could be on the road in a few years;
- Google has a fleet of autonomous Toyota Priuses and other cars, which together have covered a million miles.
- Google?s enthusiastic lobbying, Nevada has legalized autonomous driving, and California seems to be close to taking that step;
- Volvo is has completed its SARTRE study of autonomous driving, which concentrates on ?platooning,? moving self-driven vehicles in closely spaced ?road trains? led by a single professional driver.
- It?s estimated that platooning has the potential of 20 percent energy savings. Part of SARTRE is an in-depth look at consumer attitudes. Some studies show that 18 to 37-year-olds are the most accepting, and some drivers are apprehensive about the idea;
- ABI Research says carmakers spent more than $10 billion on ?advanced driver assistance systems? in 2011. The company said the number could jump to $130B by 2016.
The benefits of autonomous vehicles, says ABI, in terms of safety, cost savings, efficiency, and positive impact on the economy, are driving research and development efforts globally.
?With ADAS-type (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) assistance features already being implemented on a wide scale, the next phase of autonomous ?Co-Pilot-type vehicles? will materialize in this decade.
“Fully autonomous, self-driving, robotic vehicles will appear ten years from now,? says ABI?s VP and practice director Dominique Bonte.
?The disruptive effects of autonomous driving are only just being discovered and its transformative impact on the auto industry and society as a whole will be huge with car sharing and declining vehicle ownership being two of its main exponents.
Evolve to driverless in stages
Steffen Linkenbach, an engineer who oversees North American automated vehicle programs for supplier Continental Automotive, foresees three basic phases:
- Phase 1: new software begins to tie together various automated systems.
- Phase 2: by 2016, he says, partially automated cars will be able to brake and steer at speeds up to 20 or 25 miles per hour, which ought to help reduce rear-end crashes in particular.
- Phase 3: By 2020, there will be highly automated cars that do the same thing at highway speeds.
Something to gulp! about
Barron?s reports that Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munger estimates that driver-less car technology could ultimately mushroom into a $240B industry, which would be roughly three times the size of the cloud-computing industry that will supposedly transform data storage.
Make’s it easy to see why Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn is rattling his self-driving saber.