If automakers, and those that follow the industry closely are correct, we won’t recognize the industry, or the vehicles either, in 20 years. For the auto industry, 20 years is just around the corner and investments in new technologies are being made now. Our future mobility ecosystem specifics are changing dramatically with safety and environmental concerns for both vehicles and the road infrastructures. For many observers, it seems like a science fiction movie that has become all too real, too quickly. To those that grew up when driving was still fun at times, it will be a very strange new world indeed.
AI-enabled and controlled AV and EV technology is redefining how the global automobile manufacturing industry and its suppliers build tomorrow’s vehicles. Manufacturing innovations underway now will reshape the supply chains and alter vehicle manufacturing landscapes. The traditional internal combustion engine and its drive train will be replaced in many vehicles by electric motors and batteries or fuel cells. There are still unanswered questions about the global environmental impact of the requisite electric-powered vehicles to pull this off but that is not garnering as much attention yet.
Examining some possibilities and concerns from automakers and tech entrepreneurs provides additional AI (Artificial Intelligence), AV (Autonomous Vehicles) and EV (Electric Vehicle) insights. One underlying issue is the potential demand by vehicle function and ownership: who actually purchases them? As AV use ramps up, will these be privately owned vehicles, like today’s cars, leased or just an Uber or Lyft shared ride? What about AV trucks or other delivery vehicles?
Within a decade, the interior of AVs will likely change to accommodate occupants freed from the tedious tasks of monitoring road and traffic conditions and driving itself. Interconnected passengers will now be able to relax, perhaps enjoy some entertainment, or use their phone, tablet and/or laptop PC to work in the very mobile AV environment. Some vehicles could become offices on wheels. Relaxed and/or productive time instead of road rage would certainly be welcome for many passengers.
Initially, the strongest demand will likely be for privately-owned AVs with luxury cars leading the way. For some time, certain individuals will want their own vehicle even if it is not necessary. There are plans for very affordable EVs too, both battery powered and hybrid, with fully AV models in the works. Fuel cells are still a possibility too. But, as with other automobile innovations over the years, the technology will soon permeate the full range of vehicles with economies of scale moderating costs.
Historically, automakers try to save pennies with every component so cost is always an issue. However, integrating all the sophisticated electronics, computing power, sensors and actuators required for AVs, and the need for all of these things to be as light and as small as possible while being unobtrusive, automakers will need the latest semiconductor IC and MEMS magic to seamlessly integrate functionality and reliability into their onboard Operating System (oOS anyone?).
Will building AVs be expensive? Yes, especially in the early versions as real world feedback and experience will likely necessitate many ongoing changes to fit the evolving infrastructure.
Fewer Individually-Owned Automobiles?
It seems that virtually everything is changing in the automotive universe with AVs and EVs increasingly becoming the norm in the next few decades as internal combustion engines are phased out and/or outright banned for most some uses. As described in the previous Blog, December 6, 2017, “Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) Powered by AI—What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” Today, the bellwether General Motors is “all in” with the AV and EV businesses going forward.
“General Motors is investing heavily in ride-sharing, electric vehicles, autonomy and other mobility services in order to put customers and consumers first, and dealers will have to adjust,” G.M. CEO Mary Barra says. “The transformative technologies—electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles—provide an opportunity to grow, again, where it makes good business sense. If you look at where ride-sharing is the most popular, it’s in dense, urban environments where we have low market share, so that’s where we see it as additive,” Barra said. “I do think that we’re going to be in the core business for a very, very long time, but we’re going to continue to be led by the customer.”
Will Carmakers, As We Know Them, Survive?
A fascinating read for those automobile enthusiasts, or those involved as suppliers to the auto industry, is detailed in a special report entitled Redesigning the Industry.  “A new auto industry is forming, triggered by a reimagining of the vehicle itself. New business models are coalescing, centered on technology innovators, fleet operators, services businesses and platform providers.
“Emerging technology will ultimately lead to fully self-driving vehicles. Mass-market electrified vehicles also are gaining ground rapidly. So-called connected cars and mobility services such as onboard navigation and entertainment are redefining the industry. As management consulting firm McKinsey and Co. puts it, the auto industry “is ripe for disruption.””
Unsettlingly thought this may be to some, this disruption is being implemented within the auto industry now. Recent G.M. descriptions of where it is headed suggests that its main business may not be always focused on building automobiles for individual customers but producing fleets of AV taxi cabs or other special-purpose AV and EV vehicles. Ten years ago, few would have even thought this possible.
“We are approaching the end of the line for the automobile.”
The Auto News report quotes Bob Lutz, ex-vice chairman of General Motors who bluntly states, “We are approaching the end of the line for the automobile.” Lutz adds, “Within 20 years the human-driven automobile, its repair facilities, its dealerships … will be gone. Auto brands will be no longer named Chevrolet, Ford or Toyota,” he writes, but rather “Uber or Lyft or whoever else is competing in the market.”
If manufacturing vehicles for individual ownership and operation then becomes a sideline to be the automakers’ main goal, what is needed in Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology to make it more affordable, safer and environmentally friendly? Much more affordable and reliable electronics, sensors and batteries are part of the answer. Will it be military-grade fail-safe technology or just better technology than what is in most new cars now? Maybe one of the PC companies will just offer a customizable vehicle OS and end the discussion.
AV and EV Adoption Rates
There is considerable hyperbole about the rate at which AVs and EVs can be produced and when they will really become a sizable portion of the vehicles on the roads. There also are concerns about how producing the electricity needed to build the vehicles and to operate them is adding to carbon emissions.
One recent IEEE Spectrum report entitled Electric Vehicles Aren’t Taking Over Our Roads as Fast as Hype Artists Claim stated that “Unrealistic forecasts have been the norm. In 2008, Deutsche Bank predicted that EVs would claim 7 percent of the U.S. market by 2016; in 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek put the 2016 share at 6 percent. But actual sales came to 158,614 units, just 0.9 percent of the record 17.55 million vehicles sold that year.” Clearly, observers overestimated the rate of implementation. But with the announced and current production levels, there will be more EVs on the road in the next few years.
The author, Vaclav Smil, added, “If EVs are to reduce carbon emissions (and thus minimize the extent of global warming), their batteries must not be charged with electricity generated from the combustion of fossil fuels. But in 2016, 68 percent of global electricity originated in fossil fuels; 5.2 percent came from wind and solar and the rest from hydro energy and nuclear fission.”
An excellent point that is being addressed now with the strong growth of renewables including solar panels and wind turbines for power companies, businesses and individuals. This allows some some EV owners to charge from their solar panels at home—off the grid.
A recent McKinsey & Company report Urban commercial transport and the future of mobility stated, “More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and more people move to the concrete jungle every day.  By 2045, United Nations data crunchers project, 6 billion–plus of us will reside at urban addresses, lured there for personal and professional reasons.
“That influx will strain transit infrastructure far beyond its original road maps.
“Cities are the heart of the global economy, accounting for more than 80 percent of world GDP. Roads, rails, and other forms of transportation are the arteries that nourish that heart. When these become clogged or weakened, the results are severe.”
McKinsey also states that night deliveries can shift traffic to off-peak hours; reduce congestion during the day and allow suppliers to use bigger trucks, reducing the number of deliveries. In dense, developed cities, shifting to night deliveries could speed up commercial deliveries by half and cut costs by up to 50 percent. “For all the potential, though, the use of night deliveries in cities is limited, largely because of noise concerns; eventually, the use of EVs could help because they are quieter—and would also sharply reduce related emissions.”
Other delivery approaches look particularly promising: EVs, load-pooling, parcel lockers, and autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs). McKinsey & Company estimates that these six solutions could reduce tailpipe emissions by up to 30 percent (and eliminate them altogether through electrification) while also cutting costs per parcel by 25 to 55 percent.
For those using vacuum-centric processes, this all out push to transform the auto industry is very positive. More semiconductor integrated circuits (ICs) and MEMS sensors and actuators will be needed and they need vacuum-centric technology to make it happen. These technologies are essential for the new generations of batteries being developed as well as innovative fuel cells.
For Next-Gen IC and MEMS fabrication, what nanotech deposition, etching and cleaning processes will win out? Good question. Even as chipmakers struggle to validate and/or begin initial single-digit nanometer EUV lithography, they may think that they have most of the processes pinned down but advanced high-volume production implementation always has some surprises.
1. Redesigning the Industry, an Automotive News Special Report, Crain Communications Inc.
2. Report – September 2017, Urban commercial transport and the future of mobility, McKinsey & Company
Note: The many vacuum-centric deposition, coating, etching and cleaning processes that Vacuum Technology & Coating has covered recently, and going back almost 15 years, are worth exploring. Some articles serve as invaluable primers while others describe leading-edge applications. These are free articles, and issues, to peruse and educate. Visit http://www.vtcmag.com and explore the magazine’s online or download PDF issues. Use the Search button to find specific topics.
Next time: Remember sub-micron? The next Blog explores more of the nano challenges as semiconductor manufacturers begin producing chips with feature sizes smaller than 10 microns using EUV lithography. The race to these smaller IC critical dimensions also impacts MEMS device manufacturing with their shrinking dimensions too. The world’s most demanding and sophisticated high-volume thin film deposition occurs during the wafer fabrication (manufacture) of ICs and MEMS devices. MEMS may be a generation or more behind the IC makers in regard to critical dimensions but the devices are increasingly used in mission-critical applications which demands precision and repeatability. MEMS provide that requisite physical world interface on micro and nano scales. This obviously impacts design and manufacturing efforts. The next Blog explores IC and MEMS manufacturing advances.