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Is it goodbye, private car?

Could cars be the next part of everyday life to be transformed from a physical product into an on-demand service? Some technologists and economists predict that the privately-owned car will go the way of the horse and buggy within in a decade, writes ALEX THOMSON, co-founder at Naked, an AI-based car insurance business.

Over the past decade or so, the technology industry has transformed many things we used to buy as physical products into digital services we subscribe to or access on a pay-per-use basis. Think about how we have moved from buying CDs towards paying a monthly subscription to use Spotify, or the shift from DVDs to Netflix.

Could cars be the next part of everyday life to be transformed from a physical product into an on-demand service? Some technologists and economists predict that the privately-owned car will go the way of the horse and buggy within in a decade. In their view, only motor enthusiasts and the rich will one day own personal cars, which they will use for leisure rather than transportation.

One study in the US, for example, forecasts that private car ownership will fall by as much 80% by 2030 and that using electric ride-shares will be four to 10 times cheaper than buying a new car by 2021. The researchers foresee a world where communal, autonomous (self-driving) electric cars owned by cities or ride-sharing companies offer a safe, efficient and flexible personal transportation system.

We’re already at the beginning of this revolution, with ride-hailing services like Uber and Taxify already potentially cheaper for some people than owning a car. Car sharing services such as Zipcar – which enables you to subscribe by the month and then hire a car by the hour – and Turo – an Airbnb-like service that matches car owners with car renters – have also started to pop up around the world.

MyTreasury.co.za crunched the basic numbers and found using Uber could be more cost-effective on a per-kilometre basis for people in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban who travel less than 50 kilometres a day. The reason for this is that you pay only for the distance you travel, without the costs of car ownership such as maintenance, insurance, financing, licences and depreciation.

One also needs to add in the lifestyle costs. How much of your time do you spend stuck in traffic or looking for parking? What if you could be making calls and working on your computer during your commute instead of sitting at the wheel?

The end of the parking lot?

The authors of the US study I cited earlier believe that the effect of shared ride-hailing will completely change how cities work in the years to come. Not only will it be more efficient to increase the utilisation of vehicles by sharing them, it will also reduce the amount of space we currently use for parking in cities where real-estate is expensive and in short supply.

What’s more, autonomous vehicles should be safer since their software will not make mistakes, drive recklessly or get behind the wheel after a beer too many after a long lunch on Friday. In theory, a shift to shared, driverless cars should also improve traffic flow by reducing the stop-start rhythm of human driving.

As great as that all sounds, shared, driverless vehicles are most likely further in the future than the more optimistic forecasts suggest. While the technology is advancing fast, it may take longer to change human behaviour. For many of us in the middle classes, a car is more than a way to get from point A to point B. It is also a status symbol, a fashion statement and an emblem of personal freedom.

This is why car ownership remains stubbornly high even in European and Asian cities with cheap, reliable public transport and bans on, or congestion charges for, private cars in their centres. The transition will be even slower in a country like South Africa. The taxi industry, unions and government will resist the job losses; autonomous vehicles are probably also not ready to navigate the unpredictable drivers of Jozi’s mean streets.

Transforming car ownership

Still, the rise of on-demand technology is already affecting many aspects of the car ownership experience. Our data at Naked indicates that a surprisingly small percentage – just over 21% – of our customers opt for car hire as part of their insurance cover. We suspect the reason for this is that many of our customers choose to save on their premiums knowing that they can Uber for a while if something happens to their car.

Car insurance itself is also turning into an on-demand service, powered by artificial intelligence and algorithms, just like ride-hailing services. For example, Naked’s CoverPause allows customers to switch their accident cover off when they are not using their vehicle for a while.

You can save around half of your insurance premium on the days that you are not driving. Simply press one button on the app to downgrade your cover. If you want to drive again, you can switch back to full cover with one click. In future, we can also expect to see car insurance pricing models, such as paying for each kilometre you drive, to become more common.

So, while car ownership and car insurance are likely to be a part of your life for some years to come, connected technology will change your experience in remarkable ways. Today, buying and switching insurance from your phone is as quick and easy as registering for Uber and hailing your first ride.

Cars

Jaguar Land Rover and BMW team up for electric tech

The collaboration seeks to advance consumer adoption of electric vehicle technology.

Jaguar Land Rover and BMW Group are joining forces to develop next generation Electric Drive Units (EDUs) in a move that will support the advancement of electrification technologies, a central part of the automotive industry’s transition to an ACES (Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared) future.

The strategic collaboration will build on the considerable knowledge and expertise in electrification at both companies. Jaguar Land Rover has demonstrated its leading technical capability in bringing the world’s first premium battery electric SUV to market – the 2019 World Car of the Year, the Jaguar I-PACE, as well as plug-in hybrid models; and BMW Group bringing vast experience of developing and producing several generations of electric drive units in-house since it launched the BMW i3 in 2013. 

Nick Rogers, Jaguar Land Rover Engineering Director said: “The transition to ACES represents the greatest technological shift in the automotive industry in a generation. The pace of change and consumer interest in electrified vehicles is gathering real momentum and it’s essential we work across industry to advance the technologies required to deliver this exciting future. 

“We’ve proven we can build world beating electric cars but now we need to scale the technology to support the next generation of Jaguar and Land Rover products. It was clear from discussions with BMW Group that both companies’ requirements for next generation EDUs to support this transition have significant overlap making for a mutually beneficial collaboration.”

The agreement will enable both companies to take advantage of efficiencies arising from shared research and development and production planning as well as economies of scale from joint procurement across the supply chain.

A team of Jaguar Land Rover and BMW Group experts will engineer the EDUs with both partners developing the systems to deliver the specific characteristics required for their respective range of products. 

The EDUs will be manufactured by each partner in their own production facilities. For Jaguar Land Rover this will be at its Wolverhampton-based Engine Manufacturing Centre (EMC), which was confirmed as the home for the company’s global EDU production in January of this year. The plant, which employs 1600 people, will be the centre of propulsion system manufacturing offering full flexibility between clean Ingenium petrol and diesel engines and electric units. The EMC will be complemented by the recently announced Battery Assembly Centre at Hams Hall, near Birmingham, in supplying electrified powertrain systems to Jaguar Land Rover’s global vehicle plants.

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Sensory steering wheel lets drivers feel the heat

Jaguar Land Rover researches rapid heating and cooling of the steering wheel for use with turn-by-turn navigation.

A steering wheel developed by Jaguar Land Rover could help keep drivers’ eyes on the road – by using heat to tell drivers when to turn left or right.

The research, in partnership with Glasgow University, has created a ‘sensory steering wheel’, parts of which can be quickly heated and cooled to inform drivers where to turn, when to change lane or to warn of an approaching junction. This could be particularly useful when visibility is reduced through poor weather or the layout of the road.

The technology has also been applied to the gear-shift paddles to indicate when hand over from the driver to autonomous control in future self-driving vehicles is complete. 

Driver distraction is a major contributor to road accidents around the world and accounts for 10 per cent of all fatal crashes in the USA alone*. Jaguar Land Rover’s research suggests thermal cues could be a way to keep drivers fully focused on the road.

The cues work on both sides of the steering wheel, indicating the direction to turn by rapidly warming or cooling one side by a difference of up to 6°C. For comfort a driver could adjust the range of temperature change.

Studies have shown** temperature-based instructions could also be used for non-urgent notifications, where vibrations could be deemed unnecessarily attention grabbing, for example as a warning when fuel is running low, or for upcoming events, such as points of interest. Thermal cues can also be used where audio feedback would be deemed too disruptive to cabin conversations or media playback.

Alexandros Mouzakitis, Jaguar Land Rover Electrical Research Senior Manager, said:“Safety is a number one priority for Jaguar Land Rover and we are committed to continuously improving our vehicles with the latest technological developments as well as preparing the business for a self-driving future. 

“The ‘sensory steering wheel’ is all part of this vision, with thermal cues able to reduce the amount of time drivers have to take their eyes off the road. Research has shown people readily understand the heating and cooling dynamics to denote directions and the subtlety of temperature change can be perfect for certain feedback that doesn’t require a more intrusive audio or vibration-based cue.”

The Jaguar Land Rover-funded research is part of a PhD study undertaken by Patrizia Di Campli San Vito at Glasgow University as part of its Glasgow Interactive Systems Research Section (GIST). 

Jaguar and Land Rover models already boast a wide range of sophisticated Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) designed to improve driver and vehicle safety, including the new generation Head-Up Display in the Range Rover Velar. The Velar also features capacitive steering wheel controls for common functions that combine with the Interactive Driver Display to help reduce driver distraction.

https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/812_381_distracteddriving2015.pdf

** http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/166314/1/166314.pdf

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