Imagine this: An average car is used 14.4 hours per day at an average speed of 35 mph, resulting in 504 miles driven per day. If that vehicle is in service 28 days per month, at the end of the year, it will have 169,344 miles on it. Monthly, it will travel 14,112 miles. There is a good chance that this car or truck will be ready to retire by year two. If you are wondering what planet I am living on, this is a possible future that is not science fiction. Numbers like this were recently presented by Chris Thomas, founder of Fontinalis Partners, at the TU-Automotive ADAS Conference. Now, you might be tempted to write off this kind of information if you did not research Chris’s credentials and if his co-founder wasn’t Bill Ford. These guys can brag that they were the backing behind the launch of autonomous cabs in Asia, beating Uber to the finish line.
What could cause this type of shift in vehicle usage? The answer is necessity. Currently, there are about one billion cars on the planet. If folks continue to buy and own cars as they do now, it will take two billion cars to keep up with projected growth and mobility needs. The problem is there is no room to park two billion cars if you still want open roads to drive them on. So, what if people did not own cars? What if a manufacturer built and owned cars for the entire life cycle? Maybe they would think about buying a company like Lyft. Oh wait, they did. Maybe they would launch a whole fleet of autonomous cabs to measure consumer acceptance in an area where vehicle ownership is not a cultural axiom. Check on that one, too.
Initial projections are that commuting without the per mile depreciation, fuel costs, comprehensive insurance, license plates, maintenance, tires, etc., would save an average family $600 per month. The other benefits this type of fleet usage would bring to the table include rarely needing a parking space, higher speeds during rush hour since vehicles will be able to space consistently and communicate road conditions along a major artery, being able to adjust the size of your fleet at will and fewer and less severe accidents — to name just a few.
To be more specific, this could have major implications on how families commute. I don’t know about your house, but in my house, we have two kids who play sports, take ballet, have numerous school and church activities and generally only have one chauffeur available most days due to my travel and work schedule. There are times when the problem is not the number of available cars, but instead the number of available drivers. What if my wife could throw one kid in a car that would take her to dance and another kid in another car to take him to soccer practice while she waited for a drone from the grocery store to drop off the week’s groceries? This is the vision of urban use of autonomous vehicles.
How does this affect vehicle service? In a word — radically. First, we don’t have a whole lot of data on how fluid maintenance looks for a vehicle that travels 14,000 miles or more per month. I am betting that for internal combustion-powered vehicles, some services like GDI cleaning and oil changes will have a different look. Transmission fluids are not going to be able to claim “sealed for life” status unless the transmission will be replaced as a maintenance item every year. Will usage of electric vehicles be up to a 60% duty cycle in a 24-hour period over the next decade? To be effective, charging will have to become faster and ranges will have to increase. There is plenty of new technology demonstrating that this will soon be feasible. Time will tell whether components get designed for longer service life or if the status quo will persist. My guess is that it will make sense to get big maintenance items to last through the first year.
The next question is who will work on these fleets if vehicles are company owned. Logically, there are not enough dealer service bays to serve the entire country, particularly given the service frequency that’ll be needed to cover them. The bigger concern is a reality we are currently facing: a shortage of technicians available to perform this work. Clearly, those with fleet experience would have a certain advantage in servicing this next generation of vehicles, but given the car’s burgeoning ability to determine its own maintenance needs, the playing field becomes pretty level. Is there room for independent service in a scenario like the one outlined? The answer I got is this: “I don’t see how we do this work without qualified, organized and skilled independents.”
Last but not least, what does this mean for parts suppliers? To answer that better than I could, I reached out to AASA VP Chris Gardner to rub his crystal ball and make some predictions.
“The automotive future will certainly impact the parts manufacturers, including those that supply tools and diagnostic equipment,” Gardner said. “When one considers that two-thirds of the content of new vehicles is developed and manufactured by suppliers, it makes sense that many of these companies will be well positioned to understand and take advantage of future technology-driven vehicles.
“Successful aftermarket suppliers will be the ones that insert themselves into the data stream that predicts part wear/failure and that have the capabilities of producing the right parts for the accelerated demands of high-mileage vehicles. Another major area of opportunity addresses a similar concern,” Gardner continued. “Suppliers that support independent shops and help them develop competencies required to service connected vehicles will help grow the technology information base these shops will require. Partnerships across the aftermarket supply chain (suppliers, distributors, retailers and the repair community) will go far in recruiting and training the technicians needed for this kind of work.”