The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), the trade group representing U.S. franchised new-car dealerships, is forecasting sales of 16.8 million new cars and light trucks in 2019. Sales topped 17.3 million units in 2018, making it the fourth best sales year in U.S. history.
Consumers’ growing preference for light trucks is reflected in the per-category numbers: pickups, crossovers, and SUVs accounted for 69 percent of sales; cars made up the remaining 31 percent. According to NADA, the ratio in 2017 was 65/35. About 10 years ago, cars had the upper hand, taking 52 percent of sales with light trucks accounting for 48 percent. The association’s senior economist attributes this trend in large part to low oil and gasoline prices and improved fuel economy in crossovers, SUVs, and pickups.
There is more change afoot in the car business than the shape and utility of the vehicles being run through the car wash. The industry now encompasses such innovations as autonomous vehicles, ride sharing, subscription vehicles, connectedness, etc. What we have known as the auto industry has morphed into the “mobility industry.” So much so that the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) titled the report on its 2019 event thus: “750,000+ Celebrate the Future of the Mobility Industry at 2019 NAIAS.” Today, a “car guy” is just as likely to be from Silicon Valley as from Motor City.
DMI, an “end-to-end mobility company,” was one of the exhibitors at Automobili D, a part of NAIAS. According to a recent survey the company conducted, connected-car owners most often use the navigation; vehicle status notifications; and voice-commanded text, call, and e-mail features in their vehicles.
Perhaps more interesting are the survey’s findings regarding the features connected-car owners wished they had. The top two most desired features were safety-related. For example, 79 percent of respondents wanted vehicles that could complete a full scan after an accident to determine if the vehicle was safe to drive. Almost 75 percent wanted the vehicle to update them on such things as tire and parts replacement status. A like number would appreciate recommendations for a more fuel-efficient driving route. Respondents also wanted help saving time: 62 percent wanted a feature connecting them to prepaid parking. And 60 percent said they’d like the vehicle to provide information on alternate travel options such as walking distance or bus stops.
CES 2019 took place in Las Vegas a few days before NAIAS. This is another event that demonstrates the elasticity the term “auto industry” has acquired. For several years now, carmakers and their suppliers have been a presence at this electronics show, exhibitingtheir connected vehicles, autonomous capabilities, and advanced driver assistance systems.
Valeo, a global automotive supplier headquartered in France, introduced several innovations at CES, two of which I found interesting, if somewhat disturbing. The first, Valeo Voyage XR, claims to bring teleportation to life by enabling a stationary virtual passenger to join an autonomous driving journey from a remote location using a virtual reality headset and controls. The second, Valeo Drive4U® Remote, enables operators to control an autonomous vehicle from a remote location. Valeo claims the technology is designed to assist drivers, to relieve them of certain driving tasks, or to switch to manual mode when necessary.
I’m already wary of connected cars. Remote control as a feature strikes me as looking for trouble.