Navigant Research Blog

Will Cities of the Future Be Car-Free?

— May 5, 2016

Bangkok SkylineCity plans to eliminate cars have regularly garnered media coverage over the last few years. Some examples describe initiatives and plans in London, Madrid, and Brussels. Most major cities already have limited areas where cars are not allowed, but a detailed examination of the proposals reveals that there is a wide variety of approaches and nothing close to a uniform policy.

Some cities want to eliminate the use of diesel cars. Some want to restrict private vehicles on certain days or during business hours. Some want to control when commercial vehicles can be driven within city boundaries. Some cities implement congestion charges but allow electric vehicles in for free. Few have tackled the question of how to deal with plugin hybrid vehicles that can drive just for short periods on electricity.

While currently there is much soul searching about the car and whether it has a future in the cities of tomorrow, there is a need to define the goals and benefits of restriction or elimination of certain vehicles and also decide what is going to replace them. If the goal is cleaner air, strong legislation on emissions will do the job, but all vehicles must be included. Eliminating private cars but continuing with large numbers of trucks and buses running on diesel will have a limited effect on air quality. If the main problem is congestion, encouraging people to choose electric vehicles is unlikely to deliver a solution.

City Transportation Needs

Vehicles are needed in cities to move people and goods. Garbage must be collected and disposed, and stores must be restocked. Public transport offers efficient point-to-point movement of large groups of people at busy times, but for much of the day large city buses contribute to congestion and poor air quality without actually moving many people around. Established subway systems are almost all electrically powered and don’t affect air quality or make congestion worse, but building them is very expensive. Trams, though they use electric power, do influence congestion because they operate on city streets.

The challenge is to provide a clean transportation system that meets the needs of the people who wish to travel in a cost-effective way with maximum efficiency. Low cost and easy access are what most people want. The system must cater for people who are prepared to pay a little extra for comfort or privacy to convince them that they no longer need to own private vehicles. It must be able to collect and drop people off within a short walk of where they are or want to be. The ideal system will interface with longer range point-to-point transport by providing first- and last-mile service on demand.

The Autonomous Fleet Option

As a large range of companies continue with self-driving vehicle testing, from established OEMs and Tier One suppliers as well as new market entrants such as Google and Tesla, consideration is being given to the potential for these vehicles to operate in a shared fleet rather than being owned by individuals. The biggest challenge for autonomous driving technology is interacting with existing traffic and drivers. If a fleet was given exclusive access to certain roads, the implementation would be easier and the benefits could be properly assessed.

Implementations of autonomous fleets are already under consideration. In California, the city of Beverly Hills wants to be one of the first to do this. The city council believes it can afford to fund the investment in vehicles and fiber optic infrastructure to add another layer of security. In Europe, a new agreement to standardize traffic laws is laying the groundwork for an autonomous fleet in Amsterdam in 2019. More details are available in Navigant Research’s recent study on Autonomous Vehicles.


Key Automotive Trends Are Driving Acquisitions

— May 2, 2016

DashboardAs a new Navigant Research white paper on transportation is published, it is interesting to note that the trends identified are already influencing merger and acquisition (M&A) decisions in the automotive world today. Transportation Outlook: 2025 to 2050 takes a long-term view of how the automotive vehicle market may change over the next 35 years. As with all long-term forecasts, there are many unknowns that could influence the end results, but it is a useful exercise to think about where current trends could lead.

The study identifies four major trends in automotive technology today and extrapolates into the future to speculate about how the global marketplace might change. The four technologies are:

  • Connectivity
  • Autonomous driving
  • Car and ridesharing
  • Electric drive

It is interesting to observe some recent M&A activity that acknowledges the significance of these technology developments for the future. Although they have evolved independently, the key to long-term success is integration.

Recent M&A Announcements

While one aspect of acquisitions is always economic and looking for efficiency improvements from shared overheads and broadening of product offerings, some are more about strategic factors that consider long-term goals.

NXP and Freescale: This merger was announced in March 2015 and completed by December. NXP wanted to increase the proportion of its automotive business and was attracted by Freescale’s growing business supplying OEMs with processors for powertrain and safety systems, particularly advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

Intel and Altera: Completed in December 2015, Altera expanded the Intel product line into field-programmable gate array technology, which makes it easier to customize processors and upgrade them while in service. While generally useful for the Internet of Things, one possible application may be for secure chips to control safety and autonomous driving systems. Updating software remotely is a topic covered in more detail in a recent blog from my colleague Sam Abuelsamid.

Intel and Yogitech: Acquired in April 2016, Yogitech specializes in fault-tolerant integrated circuits. With concerns about hacking and interference growing as more cars become connected by wireless communications, safety is an important factor for automotive OEMs.

General Motors (GM), Lyft, and Sidecar: In January 2016, GM acquired the employees and technology of Sidecar, a ridesharing service that shut down in December 2015. At around the same time, GM made a major investment in Lyft, the largest U.S. competitor to Uber. The automaker does not want to get left behind in the on-demand mobility stakes. For more detail, see another blog from my colleague Sam Abuelsamid.

General Motors and Cruise Automation: In March 2016, GM announced it was buying Cruise Automation (founded in 2013) to accelerate development of autonomous driving functionality for its vehicles.

Harman and TowerSec: Once known mainly for audio and infotainment systems, Harman is expanding its product line into connected and autonomous vehicles. TowerSec provides important extra safety via cyber security capability.

ZF Friedrichshafen and TRW: When ZF Friedrichshafen AG acquired TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. in May 2015, it added key expertise in radar and camera sensors to its offerings, among other things. TRW is now a new division within ZF called Active & Passive Safety Technology. The Tier One supplier can now offer complete ADAS capability from sensors to activation of steering and brakes.

Also in 2015, Audi, BMW, and Daimler got together to acquire HERE from Nokia. This was covered in a Navigant Research blog at the time by Lisa Jerram.

This is a quick overview of recent activity in the automotive world; there will surely be more to look forward to in the near future.


Truck Platooning Hits the Road

— April 20, 2016

Connected VehiclesA group of two or more vehicles traveling together and linked by wireless communications is known as a platoon. The idea is that each vehicle communicates directly with the lead vehicle so that any braking or acceleration commands are acted on simultaneously. Because the delay caused by driver reaction time is eliminated, vehicles can travel much closer together without compromising safety.

As well as using less space on the road, vehicles that are platooning save significant fuel expense mainly due to the reduction in drag. Tests have shown fuel economy improvements of up to 10% for following vehicles and as much as 5% for the lead vehicle. Actual benefits will vary depending on a wide range of factors, but they are expected to be significant. The initial benefit data came from the European Union’s (EU’s) SARTRE project led by Volvo, which ran from 2009 through 2012.

Initiatives on the Rise

There are a number of initiatives now underway to advance the technology and help bring it into production. In 2014, the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council established the Automated Driving and Platooning Task Force within its Future Truck program. In 2016, the European Truck Platooning Challenge was set up with a goal to accelerate the introduction of truck platoons by putting the subject high on the agenda of EU policymakers. The challenge is being organized by the Netherlands as part of its EU presidency.

While developing and testing the technology is very important, policymaker support is necessary for long-term success. The EU project is tackling this by coordinating both multiple vehicle manufacturers and EU lawmakers from a range of countries. A key initial step was accomplished in April 2016 when a successful pilot test was completed with teams of trucks converging on Rotterdam from all over Europe.

OEMs Lead the Way

Truck OEMs participating in the challenge include DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania, and Volvo Group. Daimler sent three of its Mercedes-Benz autonomous trucks from Stuttgart, Germany using its Connected Highway Pilot system. Iveco sent two heavy-duty Stralis semi-automated trucks from Brussels, Belgium. Volvo sent three trucks in a platoon from Gothenburg, Sweden.

The ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association) sees its role on the project as encouraging individual countries to work together to avoid creating a patchwork of rules and regulations. Shared standards will be important to encourage investments in automated and connected vehicles by maximizing future potential component volumes.

Truck platooning is an important step toward self-driving truck fleets. Navigant Research has a detailed Autonomous Commercial Vehicles report planned for 4Q 2016, and it is encouraging that on-road testing has begun already. Some of the subsystems such as sensors and sensor fusion software can be shared with suppliers and manufacturers of light-duty vehicles, as well as image processing software that can identify obstacles. More details on the consumer vehicle market for self-driving features are available in Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report, and analysis of the technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communication is featured in the Connected Vehicles report.


A Bright Future for 48-Volt Systems

— April 20, 2016

Electric VehicleWhen Navigant Research first took a look at 48-volt (48V) systems for cars back in the fourth quarter of 2013, the technology was seen essentially as offering a more powerful version of the stop-start advancements that were becoming ubiquitous in Europe and gaining a foothold in North America as a low-cost way to achieve better fuel efficiency. Prospects looked very promising. A second assessment in April 2015 identified that the practicalities of production costs had dampened the initial enthusiasm and delayed some launches, but there were still sound reasons why 48V looked set to become an established technology.

As work begins on an update to our detailed research report, it’s worth taking a quick look at the potential for the future. The production launch of the Audi SQ7 in 2016 saw the first introduction of a 48V system, and it indicates a possible future direction for the technology. As well as a more powerful stop-start system for a large diesel engine, the higher voltage makes possible an electric turbocharger for better performance and an electric suspension option that gives improved stability and ride quality over rough surfaces. More energy is recovered for reuse than is possible with a 12V system.

At First a Luxury

As has been the case for many emerging technologies in the past, the first applications are seen on high-end luxury and performance vehicles, with new functionality and performance being the primary incentives rather than fuel efficiency, as that is what people are prepared to pay for. As suppliers get behind the new technology and volumes grow, the component costs will come down and new features will be developed.

With more electrical power available, it becomes practical to introduce more accessories powered by small electric motors rather than driven via a belt on the crankshaft. By only using power when needed, such systems reduce the load on the engine and lead to small fuel economy improvements that are becoming increasingly important as governments impose penalties for missing efficiency targets. This arrangement also permits engine-off operation of functions such as HVAC and power steering.

Small electric motors can also provide some meaningful drive assistance when combined with a slightly bigger battery than the standard starter variety. On large vehicles this might save some fuel, while on smaller vehicles it could allow electric-only operation in some low-power circumstances such as coasting, sailing, and low-speed maneuvers in traffic jams or while parking. Implementing new electric suspension options also brings the ability to harvest energy, as well as to improve comfort and handling.

Europe in the Lead

48V technology development is being led by the European OEMs and Tier One suppliers such as Schaeffler, Continental, Valeo, and Bosch. At present, it appears that European vehicles will lead the rollout of the technology, which is then expected to spread to North America and some markets in Asia. Japan may be one large market exception because of its heavy investment in full hybrid drive. The introduction of 48V systems will also bring another potential growth market for battery and ultracapacitor suppliers. Once the component costs come down, there will also be new business opportunities for the technology in the commercial vehicle sector, which has developed its own 24V systems to deliver the necessary power but has never itself had the volumes to bring prices down.


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