By Mike Sheldrick, Senior Editor
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
BuzzFeed recently ran a cute item: “12 Car Advances That Would’ve Freaked Out People in the Eighties.”That might be an exaggeration. But astounded and amazed would not.
I remember showing Dave Cole, head of the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Michigan, an Etak navigation system in late ’80s. It included map data and restaurants for Detroit and Ann Arbor. This was pre-GPS, by the way. “That’s amazing,” he said, as we found a restaurant (by cuisine) and quickly calculated a route. As a hard-nosed engineer and the son of Ed Cole, a former GM president, he was a man not easily impressed. Full disclosure: a Silicon Graphics workstation was in the trunk. It was early days for navigation. So early that the neologism, telematics, had not even been invented.
Now that telematics has switched into overdrive, it’s not so hard to imagine that many of us will be freaked out in just a few years. In other words, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
It’s easy to draw that conclusion from a recent Fleet Technology White Paper and Survey published by the British Rental and Vehicle Leasing Association.
Commenting on the survey, BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney said, “[It]… shows that the automotive environment is set to be transformed by technology over the next few years. Our findings suggest that some of the things that used to drive vehicle choice – such as driving performance, comfort and design — are rapidly becoming less important as fleets focus on technology and safety.”
Fleets surveyed highlighted that driverless cars and alternatively-powered vehicles are the technologies that have the potential to have the greatest positive impact on the industry. Fatigue warning devices were cited as the most important safety technologies for fleets, while futuristic features such as night-vision cameras were among the least important for fleets.
Keaney added: “Whether it’s safety functions such as autonomous emergency braking, or fleet management features such as telematics, the rental and leasing sector is well aware of the potential of developments in automotive technology. The BVRLA’s role is to ensure that regulation and the government’s motoring agencies keep pace with these developments, so the fleet industry can continue to innovate.”
Manufacturers pay more attention to the interests of fleets in Europe than in the U.S. because considerably more cars are purchased by fleets there. In the UK, fleets account for more than 50% of car sales. Moreover, the British government is behind driverless cars.
BVRLA’s White Paper points out that while “there has been a huge amount of publicity around Google’s driverless cars,” actual activity is underway in the UK.
The Chancellor of Exchequer’s Autumn 2013 statement announced a £10 million prize fund “for a town or city to develop as a test site for consumer testing of driverless cars.” A Low Carbon Urban Transport Zone project in Milton Keynes plans two-seat driverless “pods” to be tested next year, with 100 of them planned for street use by 2017.
The complete Fleet Technology White Paper provides an excellent overview of present and future developments. Contents include:
- Autonomous driving
- Big data: Who owns it and its uses by fleets
- Connectivity, including embedded and safely integrated smartphone apps.
- Comprehensive listing of applications — at least those that occur to us now.
- Telematics and fleet management.
- Government policy
This is not the stuff of idle daydreams. The survey found that more than 60% of fleet managers believe that connectivity and smartphone integration will be very important in influencing driver choice within five years — three times the number who believe it is now. All this is of great interest to the White’s Papers co-sponsors: BMW, Drive Software, and rak Global Solutions.