With the Model S, Tesla offers not only “the best car in the world,” but also an object from the Silicon Valley, closer in its architecture to a mobile electronic device than to a car, in the conventional sense. The electronics and system architecture but also the streamlined user experience: everything is designed in a framework where models are smartphones and tablets. The result is a car that draws its attractiveness from its own features, including its mechanical performance, and from the enchanting experience it promises, more than from simply rational, technical and economic features. Electronics and automotive technology, the best of both worlds, and beyond! This performance owes much to the personality of Elon Musk and to the culture of the company, which shares both the qualities and defects of a start-up. Will this culture survive to a change of scale?
Automakers are facing four changes that will altogether change the automotive experience in the few years to come. These four innovations, brought from the consumer electronics industry, include Connectivity, Artificial intelligence, Sensors, and Interface. Each of these four disrupting factors, taken independently, is a powerful wave on its own. When combined, they will redefine the industry.
Behind the proliferation of Uber stories hitting the headlines in many countries, the emergence of a sharing economy fascinates, and sometimes worries us, especially because of its blurry boundaries. From the perspective of an economist, it can be described as a market expansion. Exchanges that previously fell within the scope of informal economy are now an integral part of formal economy. It that good news? Yes it is. But this rapid and incomplete transition also raises many problems.
From the perspective of an economist, the sharing economy can be described as a market expansion. Among the downsides, which are now well identified, competition is stronger: but is it still fair competition? And don't the marketplaces that organize this competition find themselves in a situation of monopoly?
China has joined the race. The rapid development of civil uses, such as monitoring pollution and transportation flow, has allowed new players to emerge, aside from large military programs. Applications will drive the growth of this industry, along with technology advances and falling prices. It is still too early to say whether UAVs can be applied on a large scale and overhaul the traditional industries. But some companies are already valued at US$10 billion. Shall we expect consolidation? What is going to be the killer application?
It is a paradox: despite huge oil reserves supporting their wealth, Norwegians have become, in a few years, the first users of electric vehicles. These represent 18% of new registrations since the beginning of 2015! The key to this unprecedented growth, nowhere else to be found, is their convincing policy of incentives... so convincing, in fact, that its designers have been overwhelmed by its success: the model is bound to evolve.
In February Elon Musk boldly predicted Tesla motors would go where no car company has ever gone before, to a $700 billion market valuation by 2025. To put that in perspective, Apple became the most valuable company in history when it reached a $700 billion market valuation in November 2014. Compared to the automobile industry, $700 billion dwarfs the market value of the five biggest public automobile companies. Together, Toyota, Volkswagen, BMW, Ford and Honda have a market cap of just $522 billion. Is Elon Musk crazy? Or is he planning something only he can see?
The next automobile revolution will be the driverless car. Ever since the automobile industry was born, it has continuously represented a clear-cut vector for technological progress and societal transformation. Driverless cars, with general roadworthy models running by 2030, promise to bring sizeable changes to the way we live, to the environment, to our health, the economy and industry at large. Market potential is already visible but many questions still remain to be answered.
Automobile manufacturers face a difficult equation: in a globalised market where they can produce, buy and sell virtually anywhere, how can they make the right choice concerning localisation? In other words, how can they get closer to customers while remaining connected to resources, specifically to intellectual resources? The answer might well be found in a new industrial grammar that consists in globalised sourcing, disintegration of value chains and maximisation of comparative advantages. The rise of mega-platforms is at the heart of this redeployment and conveys a redefinition of the competitiveness equation.
It's understood, the twenty-first century will be the century of robots. And there is a lot of talk concerning a subfamily of these machines: drones. While these remotely piloted aircrafts were first developed in a military context, there seems to be no end to their civilian uses. This development goes hand in hand with a radical change in business models, marked in particular by a sharp drop in prices and an increasing variety of uses. So what are the current prospects?
Asia and key emerging countries have embarked in an impressive movement of infrastructure urbanization and modernization. And while these major projects mobilize international expertise, they are however quite different from those conducted in Europe or the United States. The decision-making processes are not the same, and today's architects and planners are putting an emphasis on the very experience of space, which varies considerably from one culture to another.
In emerging economies, the question is now being raised: will a parallel development of middle class and car driving paralyze the megacities? Advanced countries are already experimenting new solutions. How can we banish the spectre of urban immobility?
The advent of intelligent transportation systems creates opportunities for many players, from the Internet giants to the pioneers of the sharing economy... including smart public authorities. But who will invest? How to share costs and profits? And who will own the data?
There is a future in electric cars, but which one? Several technologies are competing and the major manufacturers have opted for very different strategies. Renault distinguishes itself from others by going all-electric. Beatrice Foucher, Director of their Electric Vehicle program, explains that choice and shares the insights of a carmaker on a changing landscape.
In the field of rail transport, climate change raises very concrete challenges. The infrastructure is already under heavy stress and suffers from waves of heat that distort the rails and from floods that can disrupt traffic. Passenger comfort raises additional problems. How can we adapt to these changes? How can we anticipate them? Major rail companies have been thinking about these problems for several years and are beginning to design new strategies of action on the short, medium and long term.
When examining the car industry in the US, Japan as well as Europe, one tends to focus on the crisis that has been shaking some of its biggest players for several years. But this century old industry is also a field for experimentation and technological innovation – a field where the very culture of innovation is undergoing a dramatic, exciting change.
In 2011, Rodney Brossart, a farmer from Lakota (North Dakota) was arrested by the county police. Brossart, who was armed, was in a dispute with the authorities over the ownership of six cows and refused to turn over the animals that had meandered onto his ranch property. After his arrest, Brossart charged the police with violation of privacy. Indeed, the police team had arrested him helped with a “Predator” unmanned drone, provided by the Homeland Security Department. This observation vehicle had played a crucial role to locate the suspect inside his own house and assist the policemen during the assault. However, no trial court is ever likely to hear this case. The police officers involved had a warrant and could easily prove that they used the drone for surveillance purpose only, and not, as claimed by the suspect, to create a ground for prosecution after the facts. This was the very first encounter, and certainly not the last, between an “unmanned aerial vehicle” (UAV) and the US justice.
Facing rising kerosene costs and an ever increasing pressure on CO2 emissions, the aviation industry is betting on electrification. But what will truly be electric in tomorrow's aircrafts? Though the changes may mainly affect the secondary energy sources on board, this is a technological revolution, driving a major overhaul in the management of aircraft manufacturers.
With such a range of possibilities, wherein lies the best approach to the goal of reducing global CO2 emissions? Might shifting perspectives on both lifestyle and technology come to be seen less as a constraint and more as the key to ever greater progress? The response to the current challenge depends as much on the emergence of disruptive innovation as on fresh perspectives toward current modes of energy production and consumption.
The automobile industry is over 100 years old and yet, it still isn't fully mature. While undergoing deep transformations from a technological and commercial point of view, it isn't clear who the winners and losers will be.