The future of motoring has always been a hotly-debated topic. Experts are forever pondering what we will be driving in 10, 30, 50 years’ time and big brands like BMW and Rolls-Royce have even put their money where their mouth is by devising ambitious concepts predicting what vehicles will be like a century from now.
It has now largely been accepted that autonomous vehicles are going to happen; love them or hate them. One of our recent features even suggested that we could have a self-driving car sat on our driveway by the end of the decade.
But what else does the future hold for motoring? This very question was the subject of focus during the TU-Automotive Europe 2016 conference at the Internationales Congress Center München. Held over two days at the start of the month, the event attracted 850 representatives from every corner of the automobile ecosystem.
Volkswagen used the event to speak about its new mobility brand, announced at the Paris Motor Show in September.
Little is known about what will be the 13th brand in the VW Group, but the as-yet unnamed Berlin-based brand will aim to be a world leader in sustainable transport.
To achieve this, the brand will strengthen relationships with several external companies, including tech giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tensent, as well as Israeli start-up Gett. The brand’s first cars could emerge between 2020 and 2025.
2020 should also see Volkswagen introduce an all-new electric car called I.D [pictured], capable of between 248 and 372 miles.
When you get a new car, how long does it take you to understand all its fancy new features?
Because systems and dashboard layouts vary wildly between brands, motorists generally have a teething period when it comes to getting to grips with all the knobs and switches in their new car.
Connexion – an Internet of Things company – wants to solve this lack of seamlessness between vehicle systems by making greater use of artificial intelligence, voice recognition and pre-emptive decision-making for the driver.
Translation: rather than press that button to see what it does, you can just tell your car what you want it to do, i.e. turn up the air-con, switch on the wipers, etc. Or the car could just do it for you with sensors telling the car to swerve when faced with obstacles like moose.
How important are a car’s technology features though?
Not very, apparently. Six in ten prospective car buyers check a model’s connected features before making a final decision to buy, but only 30-35 per cent of these people are willing to pay for the features.
Regardless, in-car infotainment systems will become increasingly valuable and attractive as autonomous features become more prevalent in cars, reckons Nuance Communications.
A rep from the Massachusetts-based software firm said car makers have to educate the user about the advantages of those services and how to make them accessible.
Car manufacturers at the event were in general agreement that they need to function more like software companies to make the most of motorists’ fondness for in-car technology.
Renault’s chief sales and marketing officer Benoit Joly spoke about how they had become more agile and were able to bring products faster to market by hiring software people and building their own open platform for connected services.
Deiter May, BMW’s senior vice-president of digital business models, added that openness to exterior platforms was key and that integrating Google and Apple’s Car Play and Android Auto system into cars was creating better customer experiences.
He said: “At the end of the day, if the customer has a choice, he will make the decision about which ecosystem he will want to use. Microsoft, Apple, Google – we need to open the choice for him and let him select his preferred daily environment and the car needs to seamlessly integrate into this environment.
“You can never act against the consumer.”
Amongst all the predictions, there was one widely-accepted certainty: the planet is going to get more populated.
There are currently roughly 7.4 billion people on the planet, that’s 1.4 billion more than at the turn of the millennium, and experts predict that the global population could swell to 9.7 billion by 2050.
It has also been predicted that two-thirds of the world’s people will live in urban centres by 2050. For context, it was 30 per cent in 1950, and it was 54 per cent in 2014. This will naturally lead to more congested roads and with it, more pollution (even if everyone is driving zero-emission electric vehicles by then, the electricity that fuels them still has to come from great big filthy power stations).
So how does a densely populated city like London prepare for the bloat?
The English capital is currently more populated than ever, housing a record 8.8 million people and that number is expected to rise to ten million by 2030. That’s the equivalent of two double decker buses joining the city’s population every week.
A speaker from Transport for London (TfL) revealed that 55 per cent of all trips are done by private car, but six in ten cars contain just the solitary driver.
The TfL rep said they want to make that more efficient, presumably by getting more people onto public transport or at least carsharing.
BMW gave further, if slightly frustrating, insight into the chaos of inner-city traffic.
“In high-density areas of a city at peak time, about 30 per cent of traffic is people looking for a parking space,” said the rep from BMW iVentures. Road traffic data provider INRIX also stated this point during the event.
BMW added that a lot of urban parking is wasted because city residents use their car for about an hour a day on average, resulting in the car being parked and lifeless for 23 hours a day.
Uber supported this claim, stating that 30 per cent of city landmass is “dedicated to storing these hunks of steel that are not used right now”.
They noted that the reduction in individual-driven cars has been replaced by the rise of private-hire vehicles like Uber, which means the level of traffic isn’t reduced.
That solution is free-floating car-sharing, according to Car2Go – a free-floating car-sharing company, so not an entirely neutral view here.
The service allows motorists to instantly hire a car from a roadside parking bay on a pay-as-you-go basis and ditch the car – usually a Smart Fortwo – in any designated area when it has served its purpose.
Thomas Beermann, European CEO of Car2Go, said that “people still like to drive cars but not all people still want to have the asset with all the obligations linked to it.”
He believes that alongside public transport, bikes, walking, private car, taxi, free-float car-sharing can form part of the solution to congestion, pollution and space problems.
It has been a success in the US and mainland Europe, but it failed to catch on when it launched in Birmingham and London, disappearing from the UK within two years.
What do you think motoring will be like in the future? Tweet us at @MotorVision_.