HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — The advent of autonomous vehicles has the potential to create either a utopian or dystopian driving future, according to Richard Smallwood, president and CEO of Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc.
Some level of disruption lies ahead for both the auto and tire industries because of autonomous vehicles (AV), Smallwood said as the keynote speaker at the 33rd Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference in Hilton Head April 20.
"AVs will still need tires, but the current manufacturing and distribution model will be significantly changed," he said.
Total miles traveled with AVs are predicted to increase, but tire life will be extended because of better maintenance, according to Mr. Smallwood.
Tires will become more commoditized, with dwindling brand preference, because cars will become a more utilitarian product, he said. Also, consumer purchases will give way to fleet purchases because consumers will switch increasingly from individual vehicle ownership to ride sharing, he said.
AVs will come into use faster than most people think, according to Mr. Smallwood. A fully autonomous Audi A8 is planned for release as early as this year, and most other major car makers have plans to unveil their own AVs between 2018 and 2021, he said.
Commercial vehicles will switch to complete automation as quickly as possible, except possibly for delivery vehicles, according to Mr. Smallwood.
"Somebody has to take the packages to the door," he said.
But labor unions will present an obstacle to commercial vehicle automation in an effort to save the jobs of commercial drivers, according to Mr. Smallwood.
Consumers will adapt rapidly to autonomous vehicles in urban areas, but less so in rural areas, he said. The cost of AV technology will fall quickly, making it universally affordable, according to Mr. Smallwood. But product liability and human adaptation will be great hurdles for AVs to overcome, he said.