New technologies will fundamentally change the automotive industry. But are there any areas of our life to which this does not apply? We will all be forced to adapt, but panicking will not help us, says Stefan Bonnet.
In a remarkable interview with Bloomberg in mid-June, Apple CEO Tim Cook lifted the veil a little on the IT group’s automotive plans. No, there won’t be an Apple car, something which may disappoint some young iPhone users. “We are focusing on autonomous systems,” says Cook, “which we see as a key technology.”
When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), Cook describes vehicle automation as the “mother of all projects”. “It’s probably the most difficult AI project you can work on at the moment.”
Probably so. Established automotive manufacturers have also already recognized that they won’t advance by only relying on their mechanical engineers: they are busy hiring hundreds of IT specialists, buying start-ups for billions, and furnishing chic offices in Silicon Valley. But can they compete with the development power of Apple or Google?
Especially since more adversity threatens. Tim Cook sees a “massive upheaval” on the horizon for the automotive industry, and it’s coming from three directions at once: autonomous driving systems, electric cars, and transport services.
If you consider that Tesla, for example, is trading as one of the world’s top four most valuable automotive manufacturers, although in terms of turnover it ranks far below the top 10, this upheaval is already partly a reality.
On the other hand, predictions that the automotive industry in its current form is as good as obsolete, and soon to serve merely as a hardware producer for Google and Apple, should be taken with a pinch of salt, irrespective of how often they are stated. “As an industry we have seldom been the pioneers of new technologies,” admits Seat President Luca de Meo during a talk in Barcelona, “but our strength has always been to democratize these technologies, ensure they function reliably, and make them accessible to the masses.”
The automotive industry has also demonstrated its ability to adapt in the face of other megatrends, such as globalization. “Don’t underestimate our resilience,” says de Meo.
He claims that Tesla’s success does not contradict this: “We had to wait for an outsider like this to first make electric cars and autonomous driving sexy.” But now the major manufacturers have had the chance to prepare all this for a wide audience. And there’s still plenty of time: “At the moment more people own a season ticket for FC Barcelona than drive electric cars in Europe,” he adds.
But watching comfortably from the sidelines is as useless as panicking, as a recipe for avoiding being overrun. Just count the number of times the steel industry has been written off, and today it is a technical pioneer, and of all things in e-mobility (more about this in an upcoming blog post).
Society as a whole is being faced with far larger considerations. How do we replace or compensate the many jobs which are fairly certain to be lost as the result of automation and artificial intelligence?
This is something everyone should be thinking about, whether planning to sell cars, smartphones, or season tickets in the future.