Navigant Research Blog

Ralph Nader Enters Automotive Hall of Fame: A Legacy

— June 24, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2For more than 5 decades, many in Detroit and other automotive capitals have considered Ralph Nader to be public enemy number one. Despite the strong feelings against Nader throughout much of the auto industry, the lifelong consumer advocate will be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in July 2016. While Nader first came to prominence with the publication of his book Unsafe at Any Speed, the industry would probably not be where it is today without his efforts.

When Nader’s book was published in 1965, there were almost no safety-related automotive regulations. A year later, the U.S. Congress enacted the first Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and the era of automotive regulation began. Within the next few years, emissions and fuel economy were also being regulated and the automobile would never be the same.

Rules Are Good

Over the past 50 years, the industry has fought virtually every new regulation tooth and nail, and in the process, it has seriously eroded consumer trust. While repeatedly claiming that new rules were technically impossible to meet and/or too costly but ultimately managing to meet the rules (for the most part), automakers and suppliers have chipped away at their own credibility.

Thanks to those rules, engineers were forced to convert vehicle systems from mechanical to electronic controls. Beginning with basics such as ignition and later anti-lock brakes, today’s vehicles have up to 100 computers and more than 100 million lines of code. There are already production vehicles on the road from Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Tesla with semi-autonomous capabilities. Fully autonomous vehicles aren’t far off.

Despite the animus between them, the efforts of Nader and colleagues like Joan Claybrook and Clarence Ditlow on issues such as airbags have spurred the industry to develop and adopt more capable and affordable sensing and processing systems. Those same systems have become the enablers for the transformation of urban mobility that is projected in Navigant Research’s Transportation Outlook: 2025-2050 white paper.

While there have undoubtedly been backward steps along the way—such as the ongoing Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal—overall, today’s vehicles are safer, more efficient, cleaner, and better performing than at any time in the 130-year history of the automobile. The industry also remains incredibly profitable, with more vehicles being sold than ever. The reality is that regulations have enhanced the transportation industry and personal mobility, rather than killing it.

An Inflection Point

The industry now stands at an inflection point, as mobility is about to be transformed. This is uncharted territory, and there are no rules that govern it. There are countless new players stepping up and hoping to grab a piece of the mobility pie. The potential to make a quantum leap in safety is there if autonomous vehicles are executed properly.

However, many of these new players are coming into vehicle control from a software-based technology space, where “fail fast and iterate” is the model. That’s fine when talking about apps. If they crash, it’s an annoyance. If an autonomous control system fails, lives may be at stake. If autonomous vehicles are executed poorly, it could drastically undermine a half-century of work by Nader and many others.

The time is right for the industry to step up to the plate and work with regulators to develop common-sense rules for autonomous vehicles that don’t stifle innovative ideas. At the same time, they must set standards for system performance and mechanisms to validate that performance.

Ralph Nader upset the apple cart 50 years ago; he deserves a place in the hall of fame. The auto industry needs to embrace that legacy for the future.

 

FordPass Points to a Future beyond Selling Cars

— June 21, 2016

CarsharingAt first glance, the FordPass smartphone app seems like an also ran, a remote control app similar to what other automakers have been making for years. However, after spending a week driving the 2017 Ford Escape and having a conversation with Don Butler, Ford’s executive director of connected vehicles and services, it’s clear that FordPass is the beginning of something potentially much larger. This is the first automaker-produced app that is specifically designed to provide services even to drivers who don’t own a vehicle from that brand.

The 2017 Escape and Fusion are the first Ford-brand models to offer SYNC Connect, the company’s new telematics service. Ever since Ford announced its SYNC mobile device connectivity system in 2007, the company has focused mainly on brought-in solutions. SYNC has used the phone to enable features like automatic emergency calls and vehicle diagnostics. Connect adds a 4G LTE data modem to the redesigned SYNC 3 that debuted in 2015. Until now, Ford had only used embedded cellular telematics on its premium Lincoln models and plug-in electric vehicles.

No Subscription Fees

The addition of a built-in data modem enables Ford to add capabilities such as remote start and lock/unlock similar to what GM’s OnStar and other telematics systems have offered for 20 years. However, unlike most other automakers, Ford has opted not to charge any subscription fees for SYNC. Basic services will be provided for 5 years at no additional charge beyond the option price of Connect. OnStar now provides 3 years of free basic services, and premium brands such as BMW include up to 10 years of service in the purchase price of the vehicle.

The FordPass app was developed in collaboration with San Francisco, California-based Pivotal, a cloud platform development company. Following the spring 2016 launch of FordPass, Ford also announced a $182 million investment in the company. “Ford is reorganizing into a hardware, software, and services company,” said Butler at the recent TU-Automotive Detroit conference. “We recognize that software and services cut across multiple boundaries and FordPass is a platform for delivery of some of those services.”

Shifts Are Coming

Navigant Research’s recently published white paper, Transportation Outlook: 2025 to 2050, projects shifts in the current model of vehicle ownership. As this model changes, Ford wants to be ready to manage the new relationship that people have with mobility. FordPass is a component of the automaker’s new Smart Mobility subsidiary that is structured to capitalize on business partnerships, much like Ford Credit. The full business model of FordPass is still being worked out, but one of the first elements that extends beyond vehicle control, roadside assistance, and live chat support is parking. FordPass will enable users to find, reserve, and soon even pre-pay for parking—regardless of the brand of vehicle they drive. It also will likely include some revenue-sharing component with partners in exchange for leads.

 FordPass Find Parking

FP_Find_Parking_Lumina

(Source: Ford Motor Company)

At the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Ford used the platform to reserve parking spaces available for media. Drivers only had to show a QR code on their phones to gain access. Other potential future additions to FordPass include localized deals with other merchants, usage based insurance, or ride-hailing systems such as the Dynamic Shuttle service that Ford is currently piloting at its Dearborn, Michigan product development campus. The shuttle service was deployed prior to the release of FordPass, but it could be easily integrated in the future along with carsharing and bike-sharing, or even transit passes.

Ultimately, for Ford and every other automaker, it comes down to expanding the scope of their business from manufacturing and selling vehicles to moving people and goods from place to place efficiently.

 

Does Vehicle Automation Need to Overcome the Uncanny Valley to Succeed?

— May 31, 2016

Connected VehiclesIn the world of digital animation, there is a concept known as the uncanny valley, which refers to a sense of unease generated in a viewer when something meant to replicate a human appears extremely close to being real, but subtle errors indicate that it is not. Automated driving systems are now approaching something similar in their development cycle. If the electronic control systems that are expected to drive our future vehicles can’t reach a sufficient level of reliability and robustness to cross this valley, it’s possible that consumers will never accept the technology.

Accident statistics indicate that up to 94% of all crashes are caused by human error; there is no doubt that the human decision-making process is deeply flawed. Nonetheless, human perception and visual processing have some unique qualities that make us able to detect incredibly subtle nuances. When audiences saw the 2004 film The Polar Express, it was not well-received due to characters in the movie falling into the uncanny valley. The microexpressions that are such an important part of human communication were missing from the characters in the film, leaving them with what appeared to be dead eyes.

(Dis)trusting the System

In my role as a transportation analyst, I have the opportunity to drive many new vehicles to evaluate the latest technologies. Despite usually knowing where I’m going, I try to utilize navigation systems along with voice recognition and human-machine interface and driver assistance (ADAS) features to aid my understanding of what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t.

Having spent more than 17 years developing electronic control systems including anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, I’m constantly impressed at how far these systems have advanced. Nonetheless, I have yet to encounter a system that I completely trust, including Tesla’s Autopilot, which is arguably the most advanced ADAS system on the market today. For the most part, Autopilot and other ADAS features work well within their control domains. Using radar, they can track a vehicle ahead at a safe distance and automatically slow down or speed up in response. Lane keeping systems detect road markings and provide alerts or even adjust the steering to keep the vehicle from drifting out of the lane.

Unfortunately, the sensors don’t always detect what’s around the vehicle consistently, so drivers must remain alert and be ready to take control. There are enough control errors in normal operation that it’s impossible to completely trust the system. Even far more advanced fully autonomous systems that are currently being testing by many automakers, suppliers, and technology companies aren’t perfect. They have little or no ability to operate in areas that don’t have hi-definition 3D maps, clearly visible signage and road markings, or even in instances of poor weather.

Consumer Pushback

A recently released study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute revealed that only 15.5% of respondents wanted fully autonomous vehicles, and nearly half wanted no self-driving capability at all. Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report forecasts that fewer than 5% of new vehicles sold in 2025 will have fully autonomous capability.

This low consumer interest comes despite the fact that almost no one besides the engineers working on the technology have actually experienced a self-driving car. If those engineers cannot find a way to cross the uncanny valley of automation and convince people to completely trust the technology, it will be very difficult for it to gain traction in the marketplace.

 

Low Voltage Is the Entry Point to the Full Vehicle Electrification Spectrum

— May 11, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2There is little disagreement in the auto industry that the future of propulsion systems includes increasing levels of electrification. At some point in the future, the internal combustion engine will almost certainly fade into history. However, between now and that indeterminate future time, the comparatively low cost and incredible convenience of using liquid fuel-burning vehicles will ensure that they remain the most common form of transportation. Despite that, a full spectrum of electrification solutions will make these engines more efficient until we reach that future convergence point.

Recently, stakeholders from both the OEM and supplier sides of the automotive industry came together in a suburban Detroit hotel for the 3-day Low Voltage Vehicle Electrification Summit, which raised just as many (if not more) questions than answers about the potential for intermediate electrification. The statement that can be made with any degree of certainty is that there is no silver bullet on the horizon that will suit every application.

Stop-Start and 48V

Navigant Research’s Stop-Start Vehicles report projects that nearly 60 million vehicles annually will include at least basic automatic engine stop-start functionality by 2024, while the 48-Volt Systems for Automotive Applications report projects that more than 7 million vehicles will have 48V electrical systems over the same timeframe.

Stop-start capability with 12V electrical systems has already become relatively ubiquitous in Western Europe, and deployment is expected to expand rapidly in North America in the next several years. However, 12V systems are already being stretched to their limits with all of the power-drawing features and amenities included in today’s cars and trucks. With a practical power limit of 3 kW from a 12V system, the actual use of stop-start is often limited by the need to maintain power levels for essential systems such as the vehicle electronics.

With up to 10 kW available, the additional power capacity provided by a 48V system will enable engineers to deploy more capable semi and fully autonomous systems, which can draw up to 4 kW for the actuators under peak load transient conditions. More importantly, from an efficiency standpoint, 48V systems can enable energy recuperation, sailing at highway speeds, and engine shut-off at higher speeds before the vehicle comes to a complete stop. These enhanced systems can also provide sufficient power for electric superchargers and the electrification of ancillary systems such as oil and water pumps.

Not an Easy Transition

However, the transition is not as simple as installing a bigger battery and generator. Many existing vehicle systems will stay at 12V in order to take advantage of economies of scale, so there must be mechanisms to handle dual voltage. There is also the question of the best type of energy storage to use. Lithium ion batteries are lighter but more expensive and have poor cold engine start characteristics. Various types of advanced lead batteries such absorbed glass matt and lead carbon are already in use or in development, but they each have their own issues.

There is also the overall cost-benefit analysis as high-voltage electrification becomes more affordable. At what point does it make more sense to skip 48V, which can add $800 to $1,000 or more to the cost of a vehicle, and just go high-voltage?

These questions and many more will be discussed at the PlugVolt Battery Seminar taking place at the Sheraton Detroit Metro Airport Hotel from July 26 to 28. More than two dozen speakers will be on hand to discuss battery chemistry, automotive applications, and grid storage.

 

Blog Articles

Most Recent

By Date

Tags

Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Finance & Investing, Policy & Regulation, Renewable Energy, Smart Energy Practice, Smart Energy Program, Smart Transportation Program, Transportation Efficiencies, Utility Innovations

By Author


{"userID":"","pageName":"Sam Abuelsamid","path":"\/author\/samabuelsamid","date":"6\/27\/2016"}