Cars ‘will become more like robots’

Cars of the future will be more like robots as a result of the population migration to large cities and the impact this will have on driving patterns, former Ford chief technical officer Richard Parry-Jones, who now co-chairs the UK Automotive Council, told a conference in London.

BMW i3 concept car

“The driver will progressively hand over more control to autonomous systems within the car. There will be high-precision traffic controls, vehicle platooning, more efficient use of infrastructures and zero accidents,” he added. “Energy use, emissions, productivity, journey times and reliability will all be much better.”

On the power systems likely to dominate in future, he said: “There will be a shift from fossil fuels to electricity, but I think that battery progress will be slow. The internal combustion engine will change roles to that of a highly efficient range extender.”

At the moment, half the world’s seven billion people live in vast urban areas – but by 2050 the population will have grown to nine billion, 70% of whom will be crammed into cities, delegates to the Frost & Sullivan Urban Mobility conference were told.

Car companies will need to stop thinking of themselves as vehicle manufacturers and instead become providers of mobility services in response to this.

“There will be no need to own a vehicle,” said Tony Douglas, the man responsible for the sales and marketing of the new BMW i alternative powertrain sub-brand. Instead, urbanites will rely on a mixture of public transport, cycling, walking and car-sharing schemes to get around. And they will expect to integrate all these mobility options seamlessly via a smartphone.

“The smartphone is the key to tomorrow’s mobility,” said Robert Henrich, the CEO of Daimler Mobility Services. Daimler and BMW are leading the way in what was described as “a revolution in the chain of mobility”. Volkswagen, Renault, Nissan and Ford are also edging into wider mobility options.

Daimler now has its car2go on-demand hire system up and running in 21 European and North American cities, and has developed a smartphone app, called moovel, integrating alternative forms of transport. In Stuttgart it is trialling another app which tells users all the options they have to get to where they want to go.

BMW has spent €100 million on what it calls i ventures, which include car sharing schemes, help for drivers looking for somewhere to park and access to other forms of transport. “The lines between public and private transport will disappear,” forecast the head of BMW mobility services, Dr Markus Schramm.

The number of people in global car-sharing schemes is expected to grow from two million today to more than 26 million by 2020, which will involve a fleet of 500,000 cars. It will be fuelled by 30-something professionals who have no desire to own a car, but who want access to one when they need it. Each car involved in a sharing scheme is reckoned to cost the auto industry 10 sales to private customers.

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