Friday, 18 May 2018 17:48

Experts Weigh in on the Future of the Automobile

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The Petersen Automotive Museum, in partnership with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, recently held “The Future of the Automobile Conference.” The Petersen Automotive Museum, in partnership with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, recently held “The Future of the Automobile Conference.” Courtesy of Petersen Automotive Museum


“Fasten your seat belt, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride over the next decade or two,” forewarned John Rossant, who recently spoke during “The Future of the Automobile Conference,” a special event at the Petersen Automotive Museum held in partnership with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. 

“We’re at the cusp of massive disruption, which is why we’re having this conference—the electrification of everything, vehicle connectivity, the arrival of the autonomous world, etc.,” he said.

Rossant, the founder and chairman of NewCities, a global nonprofit institution, and the leader of L.A. CoMotion, was among those who gave their perspective on the rapidly approaching transition to autonomous vehicles. 

Co-hosted by the Petersen Automotive Museum and the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, the day-long event aimed to bring together leading voices from manufacturers, technology companies, urban planners and regulatory agencies. From artificial intelligence to autonomous vehicles, every presentation and discussion featured companies that are innovative in the automotive market.

“We are experiencing a fundamental change in the future of transportation probably as significant as the switch from horse-drawn carriages to gasoline-powered cars back in the beginning of the 20th century,” said Peter Mullin, chairman of the board of directors for the Petersen Automotive Museum, which has had an estimated 4 million visitors. 

“The Petersen, as an organization, has almost 25 years of history,” said Mullin. “We think our job is to continue to remain curious, to ask questions, to push the envelope of destructive change and share the history and art of this extraordinary passion for the automobile.”

Terry McCarthy, the executive director of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, moderated the opening panel in which nine speakers talked about their perspectives on the future of the automobile. Here are some of the highlights:

Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for Digital Future at the University of Southern California 

“I think driverless cars are going to change the world. I think they are the most important development of the next 30 years. They are going to change everything about commerce, housing patterns, human activity and the potential to eliminate 34,000 deaths a year, as well as greatly reduce traffic. I think that in 60 years, our grandchildren are going to marvel at the fact that we ever let human beings sit behind the wheel of dangerous weapons.”

Dan Eberhart, CEO of Canary and author of Switching Gears: The Petroleum-Powered Electric Car

“I started thinking about the electric car phenomenon and what it is going to mean for industry …  I think it is going to be transformative for what energy we are going to need in the future and how we use energy. About 29 percent of the total energy consumption in the U.S. is used as transportation fuel. These internal combustion engines we are using are roughly about 25 percent efficient in how they displace energy. It is thought that with these electric cars, we’re going to be able to achieve about 70 percent efficiency. In terms of displacement in what we are doing, we’re potentially going to have 45 percent more efficiency, which is over double of where we are currently, and it could really be transformative for how much energy we need and how much energy we use and where we need to find it.”

Stefan Krause, CEO of EVelozcity 

“We will not solve this problem that urgently needs to be solved with companies that think like combustion engine companies, that have business models by combustion engine companies, market like combustion engine companies and have a mindset like combustion engine companies. That’s the big issue today and why some people are still not believing that this change will occur because we are coming at this whole industry with a different mindset.” 

Kent Kresa, former chair of GM and Northrop Grumman and member of the board of directors at Petersen Automotive Museum

“This transformation of the automobile in the next 30 years will change everything. This is extremely disruptive and the world in 30 years will be very, very different. We’ll have two different worlds---the urban world where the trucks will play the same way they play today and then we’ll have this electrified world where nobody owns cars and people will lease them for their short moments of driving. This will be very disruptive to many, many industries. There are predictions ranging all over the map. Some say this will happen rapidly, some say it won’t happen at all. I believe that it will be huge.”

Dakota Semler, founder and CEO of Thor Trucks 

“About 10 years ago, we were operating a fleet that had about 300 trucks in L.A. County and we were forced out of compliance. We were forced within three years to replace all of our trucks with newer technology. We realized that it was a customer need that started this electrification interest in the commercial and heavy duty electric space. We set out to develop heavy duty electric trucks to fulfill that need. We think that this acceleration will actually happen a lot quicker than the consumer space in the passenger car realm because of a few key things, including forced compliance and a clear TCO (total cost of engine) case … we can actually create a compelling savings for fleets that operate electric vehicles over the diesel vehicles, so instead of them making the option to be electric because it’s sexy or trending or the next best thing, it’s actually a clear economic case, and that’s what we want to drive home.”

Ryan Westrom, mobility partnerships lead for Greenfield Labs at Ford Smart Mobility 

“I think today, as we talk about the technologies of autonomous vehicles to come and the form factor and talk about them as machines and metal boxes … Any of these devices---cars that have been and the cars that will come---operate for the human, the human that is at the center of that design equation. This transformation is coming and we have this opportunity in front of us to shape it. We can shape it well or shape it poorly. I believe if we start with the human at the center of that equation we can shape it extremely well. The relationship that we have had with cars over the past 125 years has really been deeply emotional at its core. We think of the car as almost a member of our family. We assign meaning to it. I think that meeting that emotional need to have connection is something that really provides an opportunity, and how are we going to have that emotional connection with the autonomous vehicles of the future? If we have anything to do with it, there’s going to continue to be vehicles, but smart vehicles in a smart world.”

Brian Witten, senior director, advanced technologies for Symantec

“Over the last 20 years, I’ve built security for spacecraft, aircraft, consumer electronics, computers, and tens of millions of connected cars. What I’ve learned is there’s never any single silver bullet. Building security into anything is about protecting the communication, protecting the cars themselves, and keeping them up to date---because security is never done---and then having a way of looking for those really stealthy, sophisticated attackers. That’s not easy to do. The good news is that a lot of the auto makers have started doing this for millions of cars. The bad news is there are about 100 million cars a year that shipped. The majority of them are without enough security, and the ones that are building security in the cars are just starting to build one or two of those cornerstones, not all three or four. We’re still very early in this journey. We’ve already seen cars run off the road, and that’s disconcerting. For our cars to be safe in the future, they are going to need to be digitally secure.”

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