By Brian Daugherty, Chief Technology Officer, Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA)
We are fortunate to live in a fascinating era of technological progress. In addition to the advances in consumer electronics, we are seeing similar rapid progress in automotive technology. Not a day goes by without dramatic predictions of fully autonomous, electric vehicles zipping us around while seamlessly communicating with each other and the roadway infrastructure. We also have pundits forecasting that we will soon be traveling in pilotless flying pods – which in many ways is an easier problem to solve than autonomous ground-based navigation. However, it’s important to remember that most commentators in the popular press have very little technical background, but they do enjoy the allure and hype of advanced vehicle technology. Given this media attention and combined with widely varying growth forecasts for hybrids, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and automation, how do we develop and maintain a realistic technology perspective – especially regarding the aftermarket?
The Status of Automated Vehicle (AV) Testing
The speed at which AV technology has sparked the interest of the world media and consumers continues unabated. Several recent fatal accidents, however, have increased the debate over the pace of development and whether current test protocols adequately protect pedestrians and other vehicles during public road testing. On March 18, an Uber automated test vehicle (SAE Level 4) operating with a safety driver struck and killed a pedestrian. This resulted in Arizona banning Uber from testing in the state. Uber immediately halted all testing across the board and is only now re-starting limited testing. This will occur just in Pittsburgh with two “mission specialists” in each vehicle – one to oversee the road testing and take over if needed plus a second observer to take notes and monitor the system. Unfortunately, the sober realities of the downsides of AV testing are now very apparent. In addition, multiple fatal accidents involving the driver assisting Tesla Autopilot system (SAE Level 2) have occurred. These recent accidents point out the difficulties in having human drivers as a back-up. In a Level 2 vehicle, the driver is required to stay engaged continuously, but the danger of distraction is ever present – especially when the system has performed well previously for long periods of time and in similar conditions. Even with a much more capable Level 4 test vehicle, the safety driver must remain alert at all times during testing – also a difficult task. These accidents are currently under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and/or the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and are shaping the perception of AV technology by the public as well as legislators and regulators.
The 40,000 roadway fatalities that we have per year in the U.S. is a national tragedy and the automotive and heavy truck industries, along with federal and state agencies, are working on many technologies including Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V) to dramatically reduce that number. While human drivers are obviously at fault almost 100 percent of the time with current vehicle technology, the fatality rate is one per 90 million vehicle miles travelled. So, even as flawed as human drivers are, they are surprisingly difficult to replace. The general feeling among experts as well as the public is that AVs should be at least as safe as human drivers before they are deployed in test fleets without safety drivers. Anything less than this standard will reduce overall safety levels and increase fatalities. However, the difficulty for anyone developing AV technology is in demonstrating that they meet or exceed today’s safety levels. This is quite hard to prove – even internally – much less to a state government or to NHTSA.
GM and Waymo, the AV unit of Google, are two of the clear leaders in AV technology and both are moving forward with their testing and deployment plans. GM has launched its SAE level 2 Super Cruise system that under the right conditions allows hands-free driving on over 130,000 miles of U.S. highways. GM has spent a significant amount of time figuring out how to ensure that the driver remains attentive when the system is engaged and if the driver becomes distracted – the system shuts down. Waymo is planning to continue its trials in Chandler, Arizona with its fleet of SAE Level 4 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans and is in the process of expanding its fleet from 600 to 62,000 vehicles. Waymo also announced that it would acquire up to 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE vehicles for AV use over the next several years. While most of Waymo’s test drives have safety drivers, they are beginning to do tests without them in Arizona.
V2V Communication Update
The U.S. vehicle industry has been waiting over one and a half years for NHTSA’s final rulemaking regarding vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V), but due to heavy lobbying to share the same 5.9 GHz frequency spectrum it remains unreleased. V2V is also known as Dedicated Short Range Communication or DSRC.
Toyota’s recent announcement that they will begin equipping all of their vehicles with V2V equipment in the U.S. starting in 2021 is a great step forward in the industry’s effort to reduce fatalities.
The American Trucking Association (ATA) has just added its emphatic support regarding the safety benefits of DSRC and the designated 5.9 GHz spectrum that it uses. In a letter last week to the Federal Communications Commission, the ATA summarized the many benefits to heavy vehicles offered by DSRC-based V2V and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications and requested that the FCC not disrupt this rapidly growing technology.
GM is currently selling a version of the Cadillac CTS sedan with V2V technology as well, but in limited quantities. Hopefully, if other OEMs join Toyota in rolling out this technology across their fleets we can effectively jump start the roll-out of V2V technology in the U.S. The Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) and AASA believe – as does NHTSA – that this technology offers significant safety benefits as both new and aftermarket equipment for heavy and light vehicles.
As vehicle OEMs roll out more V2V equipped vehicles, the opportunity for aftermarket systems improves. Since the value to the consumer is greatest when all vehicles are equipped, everyone benefits when existing vehicles are upgraded with aftermarket V2V technology.
What does this mean for the aftermarket?
Clearly, we are in the very early stages of an amazing revolution in vehicle technology. What isn’t easy to predict is how fast or far this revolution will go and what it means for the aftermarket. Consumers and the media are focused on true driverless vehicles and what that will mean for mobility. The more highly integrated SAE Level 4/Level 5 “driverless” vehicles will at least initially be limited to OEM installation due to their complexity. The largest improvements in safety, however, will come from ADAS and V2V systems that help humans be better drivers by assisting them when an error is made, or a distraction occurs. The aftermarket can become a big player in this potentially multi-billion dollar market with camera-based ADAS systems and V2V installations – especially if they are incentivized by insurance companies and state governments as a safety enhancement.
There will be many education sessions, demonstrations, presentations and displays at AAPEX that will focus on emerging technologies that will help position the future aftermarket as a vibrant, innovative and influential industry. Some of the sessions include:
Tuesday Oct. 30
2019 Aftermarket Outlook presented by Nathan Shipley, NPD (also offered on Wednesday, Oct. 31)
Emerging Vehicle Technologies and their Impact on the Aftermarket presented by Evan Hirsch, Strategy&/PwC
Wednesday, Oct. 31
Dongles, Shops and CRM Applications for the Aftermarket presented by Jorge Antico, eAutoClub, Inc., and Parker Swift, MechanicAdvisor
Thursday, Nov. 1
Future Vehicle Technology: Consequences to the Aftermarket presented by Derek Kaufman, C3 Network
How Telematics is Impacting National Service Chains presented by Chris Blanchette, Bridgestone Retail Operations
If you need to understand where aftermarket technology is headed, do not miss AAPEX.