AKRON — If industry experts are right — and there's plenty of evidence to support their beliefs — it won't be long until autonomous vehicles (AVs) become as much a part of our everyday lives as death, taxes and inclement weather.
In fact, those days might be closer than you think. Audi A.G. introduced semi-autonomous vehicles earlier this year, while Tesla Inc. expects to offer its AV in 2018. Meanwhile, Volkswagen A.G. may have a vehicle on the market by 2019, and there's evidence others manufacturers will have something available by 2020.
During the recent SEMA and AAPEX shows in Las Vegas, Richard Smallwood, president and CEO of Sumitomo Rubber North America Inc., and Neal Ganguli, automotive supplier consulting leader for Deloitte Consulting L.L.P., discussed some of the challenges and trends that will occur naturally as AVs become common in our lives.
Both speakers noted while many factors remain a question mark — including acceptance by the public at large — there is no question that AVs will disrupt the transportation industry as much as the introduction of internal combustion engines did to the horse and buggy a century ago.
Mr. Ganguli, speaking at AAPEX, warned that aftermarket officials must figure out ways to reposition their product portfolios to reduce risk and to innovate services and business models to replace revenue and profit for at-risk segments.
He predicted growth for vehicle content and vehicle production, AV, electric and connected content and software, and aftermarket services.
Mr. Smallwood, meanwhile, laid out a scenario in which fleet operators jump headfirst into AVs, if only to survive. He told an audience at the Tire Industry Association's Tire Industry Honors Night that AVs can eliminate as much as 75 percent of the cost to deliver a package.
Still skeptical about AVs? Consider this: Mr. Ganguli said it costs an average of $1 per mile to operate a vehicle in the U.S. AVs, meanwhile, can be driven more often and operate under shared usage, dropping the cost to about 67 cents per mile.
However, the biggest takeaway for tire dealers is this: Mr. Smallwood noted that AVs still will need tires.
That's not to say the model won't change: total miles traveled will increase, and tread life and the time between tire replacement might grow as technology monitors vehicle maintenance and repair needs.
As shared usage becomes common — think of you and your friends owning or sharing the costs of a driverless Uber-like vehicle — he predicted tire dealers will be dealing with more fleets than individual vehicle owners. AVs will drive more under this arrangement, perhaps as much as 70,000-75,000 miles a year. That, Mr. Ganguli said, will impact the types of parts, replacement cycles and models for repair and maintenance.
"There are going to be needs that do not exist today," he said. "So...there's going to be opportunities for this industry to capture."
The time for AVs is fast-approaching. Think of them not as a threat, but as an opportunity.
It would behoove everyone in the transportation industry not only to prepare for these days, but also look for ways to stay ahead of it: Monitor industry trends; invest in the latest technology; and consider ways your dealership can leverage the evolution toward AVs to become a hub for the future as opposed to a relic of the past.