How Is Technology Changing the Auto Industry?

Image result for Ford assembly line
Henry Ford’s assembly line

Ever since the groundbreaking days of Henry Ford and his Model T, the automotive industry has been by far the industry most receptive to emerging technologies. Henry Ford understood that tech had the ability to redefine an industry and this push for innovation can still be clearly seen today. Think about it, without technology our cars would be stuck in the past and features we take for granted like power steering or air conditioning wouldn’t exist. Nowadays the auto industry is going through somewhat of a technological revolution with a new raft of ideas pushing to the forefront of the industry. Whether it’s electric engines or self-driving cars, how we view our vehicles is changing faster than ever before. So let’s explore how is technology changing the auto industry.

Popping the Hood

We are seeing the biggest changes to the humble car under the hood. The development of renewable energy engines is something that has been progressing since the early to mid-2000s. Canada has set a 30% GHG emissions reduction target below 2005 levels by 2030 (equivalent to 523 Mt CO2e). Canada’s long-term goal is to reduce emissions by 80% from 2005 levels by 2050. Federal and provincial governments have introduced climate policies to help achieve these ambitions.

Reducing emissions

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Signing of the Paris Agreement

GHG emissions from the transportation sector are the second largest source of emissions in Canada, representing 24% of total GHG emissions in 2015, of which 12% originate from light-duty vehicles. Canada recognizes that reducing transport emissions will be required for meeting its targets and has identified expanding the number of ZEVs on Canadian roads in its approach for doing so. The federal government is working with provincial and territorial governments, industry and other stakeholders to develop a Canada-wide ZEV strategy in 2018.

ZEVs include battery electric vehicles (BEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Canada has seen impressive growth in ZEV sales over the past few years. In fact, ZEV sales in Canada increased by 68% between 2016 and 2017. As of the end of 2017, the total number of ZEVs on Canadian roads was 47,800.

A big part of this move has to do with The Paris Agreement for the reduction of greenhouses gasses has made it so manufacturers are seeking to make cars more efficient.

Automotive companies are now required to reduce fleet emissions to 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre for all new cars. This is driving a wave of new technology around the engine, such as:

  • Reducing fuel intake
  • Maximise fuel output
  • Omit Car weight reduction
  • Material selection
  • Renewable energy engines

To put this all into context, the proportion of steel used in the manufacturing of the modern vehicle has fallen from 43% to 35% since the turn of the century. This is as a direct result of the developments around the creation of lighter and stronger composite materials. Carmakers are also using the latest technology when it comes to design software, allowing them to design more aerodynamic, cheaper and more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Electric engines

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Tesla Model S

Sure making vehicles lighter and engines more efficient is all well and good but the renewable energy engine is where the real work is being done! EV tech is finally starting to make an impact with fully electric vehicles ranging from the Tesla Model S to the Nissan Leaf. Thinks about this, since the release of the Toyota Prius, electric or hybrid cars on our roads has more than doubled.

“I’ve actually made a prediction that within 30 years a majority of new cars made us the US will be electric. And I don’t mean hybrid, I mean fully electric.”

Elon Musk

It’s hard to disagree with Elon, the latest iteration of the Model S will go over 300 miles before a recharge is required. Right now if you but an EV you can charge it at home in approximately 4 hours and charging at the pumps can be done in 30 minutes. Sure many may think a 4 hour charge time might sound ridiculous, but the idea of refuelling your car while you sleep or while it’s just laying in the driveway is a real new age idea.

3D printed parts

Finally, now that we know cars are going to be lighter and more eco-friendly surely this makes them far more expensive to repair? Not exactly, developments in 3D printing mean repairing cars could be about to be cheaper than it’s ever been. In the next decade or so there is a train of thought that a mechanic could have the ability to simply print replacement parts onsite. This will vastly reduce the time taken to source and replace parts, while also driving down the cost of repairs for customers.

Getting “Connected”

Not unlike your kettle at home, the car is also being taken over by “smart” or “connected” technology. Research undertaken in the UK has shown that nearly 20% of all vehicles registered in the country have some form of internet connection. As you can imagine, this figure is steadily rising as more car makers embed their vehicles with onboard gadgetry. From voice assistance to in-car SIM cards, the modern car can contain more technology than anyone could have ever imagined.

Modern car dashboards are able to give us exact notifications in place of old school dashboard lights, there are apps that can track driving performance and you can even start the car or set the alarm without a key! These are just 3 things that we almost take for granted now but as little as 10 years ago they didn’t exist.

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Volvo S90 interior

This wave of new technology has opened up the potential for cars to “talk” with each other and the world around them. For example, intelligent transport systems could alert drivers to traffic conditions, traffic lights and create optimum routes in real time through their interactions, you could also have driver assistance systems to control speed, stability or even emergency braking if required.

The next gen

This Augmented Reality user manual first trialled by Hyundai in 2015/2016 is a simple example of what is in store for the automotive industry going forward. A user manual that actually doesn’t take up space in the glove box, it can actively help you learn your way around your car. It’s just one of many innovations to keep an eye on just like the rumoured “smart dash”.

A “smart dash” in theory integrates with your with your car to create a large smartphone, that will read out your text messages, answer calls, find maps and play music. Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto are two of the big players in this new technology. We have also seen developments in virtual windscreen technology that is created to aid drivers, just check out this clip from Jaguar:

The Future is Automated

The self-driving car, it’s quite possibly the biggest technological push that companies are moving towards. Some might say it’s the automotive equivalent of the Space Race. In the future, we will have a full article on self-driving cars because there is just that much to talk about but basically the self-driving car works but using modern machine learning combined with remote sensors. Using an array of cameras to generate a 3D map of the world around it, the AI can then take control of the driving experience, using the data being relayed to it to make decisions in real time.

Basic automation

Yes, self-driving cars are awesome but did you know a lot of modern car features would be considered autonomous! Systems like active parking assist and advanced cruise control are actually autonomous systems which remove human error from the task at hand. Taking the BMW 7 Series, for example, it can actually park itself without a driver even inside the car.

Remember this is only the beginning. In time these technologies will advance and merge fully with vehicles to create a driving system that is better and safer without human control. Only at this point will a full self-driving road car become standard.

Voice control

Automation is more than your car being able to go places by itself. Voice and gesture control are also adding to the automation of the modern vehicle. Want to change the radio channel or change the destination on your Sat Nav? Tell the car to do it for you. Voice assistants such as the Amazon Alexa will become commonplace to perform these tasks for drivers. Another big development is coming in the guise of gesture control. We have seen some manufacturers developing this technology so that a simple wave of the hand will answer a call through the cars inbuilt Bluetooth.

Just look at this voice and gesture controlled device by German AutoLabs called CHRIS.

Looking to the Future

Right now the automotive industry is probably one of the most innovative around when it comes to technology. Factors such as environmental legislation, competition and changing customer expectations have meant that the car makers have been driven to push the envelope and challenge expectations as to what the car can become. If you were to look at a car from 2009 and the 2019 model side to side the advancements are obvious, just imagine what the next 10 years hold. A last thought to leave you with, there was a time when power steering and electric windows were considered new age, the fact we are in the middle of a technological revolution is very exciting and the automotive industry is right at the forefront.