Not your father’s Chevy: The potential crisis for owners of high-tech vehicles

At an iPoliticsLive event in Ottawa on Wednesday morning, stakeholders gathered to talk about how the move toward greener modes of transportation, be it with electric or hybrid vehicles, will impact both servicing and maintenance, as well as how more autonomous vehicles will create issues around access to the vehicle’s data.

“When you look back at the advent of vehicles in the twentieth century and the impact that it would have, there are some things that you could predict like suburbs and highways, but we didn’t talk about Tim Horton’s drive-throughs or Bruce Sprinsteen making millions of dollars making songs about cars,” said Scott Bradley, vice-president for corporate affairs for Huawei Canada.

Bradley said that 5G was the underlying technology that Huawei sees as the backbone of connecting networks of automated vehicles, in terms of speed and data capability. He sees 5G as bringing together the greatest advents of the past century – vehicles and telecommunications.

Malcolm Sissmore, North American sales director of Delphi Automotive, says that the aftermarket is currently a $25 billion industry – half of the automotive sector in Canada, with over 100,000 service facilities, with a definite need for more apprenticeships to train future technicians.

“With the aftermarket, there’s been future technologies in automotive since day one and we’ve adapted to deal with that, and we’ll continue to adapt,” says Sissmore.

Sissmore noted that one of the concerns going forward is how new vehicle technologies will impact first responders, who could be electrocuted trying to move vehicles involved in a wreck. That will require them to get the right access to the vehicles in order to shut them down and move them off the road.

Sissmore added that greater connectivity in the future will also mean other issues that have previously not been considered, such as standard protocols and platforms that can guard against cyber-security threats.

“We’ll be able to go out and do the major repairs and minor repairs that still need to be done, regardless if it’s owned by someone else, if it’s autonomous, or part of a fleet,” said Sissmore. “Tires wear, you’re still going to need brakes that work, you’re still going to need windshield wipers that work.”

The move toward more automation and tech in vehicles has been ongoing for years, and recent examples like cameras and sensors are the latest in a long line of improvements.

“Vehicles that we’ve had for a number of years have already been connected within themselves,” said Vince Guglielmo, vice-president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA). “We went from regular steering to steering by wire. We went from regular braking to power breaking and now we have electronic braking, and now emergency brakes that are not a lever. We’ve gone from regular distributor caps to electronic injection – that’s all computer controlled.”

Guglielmo said that the next wave will be having vehicles talking to each other, known as V-to-V, and vehicles talking to infrastructure, known as V-to-X, and it’s the latter where the real challenge will be, requiring it to be available in all jurisdictions for it to work properly – something that will require significant dollars of investment and time. It would also mean standardizing regulations to ensure that all autonomous vehicles can operate in a similar manner.

“All this equipment is very expensive, and repairing such things will be equally expensive if you can diagnose it properly,” said Guglielmo. “My opinion is that we’ll see more ride-sharing, lease-to-own or a rental equivalent of ownership of vehicles going forward, and people won’t be buying a vehicle outright, and they probably won’t want to hold onto it beyond a three-to-five-year timeframe because they don’t want to get stuck out of warranty, repairing something that will be very expensive to fix.”

Barrie Kirk, executive director of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence, noted that this week, Google’s parent company has announced that they will start testing driverless cars in Phoenix without a human chaperone driver.

“The technology and the auto sector are doing a wonderful job of developing the technology, there’s a convergence happening,” said Kirk about the Canada. “The downside is that on the regulatory side, we in Canada are lagging all the other members of the G7. We need to do a much better job of speeding up the regulatory framework. The sort of testing that’s being done in Phoenix would be totally illegal in Canada at the moment.”

Kirk noted that with the move to autonomous vehicles, it is likely that insurance payouts and premiums will decrease as collisions decrease, and that by the 2020s when fewer people own their own vehicles, the insurance market will shrink.

Kirk also noted that the value of the data collected by the cars and their sensors will be worth three times the value of the cars, which will set up for big fights over that data ownership in the future, and that so far, the government hasn’t moved to deal with these privacy issues.