The automotive industry is going through an unprecedented change with advancement in innovative technologies and changing consumer preferences. The investments by automotive and software industry in research and development of sensors (for example, radar, lidar), batteries, software, and artificial intelligence is finally paying off. The future cities will be dominated by automated, connected, electric, and shared (ACES) vehicles.
Vehicle design is driven by many factors including function and aesthetics. Since functionality plays a big role in governing design, ACES vehicle design will depend on its intended use. Current research shows that consumer loyalty is driven by appearance, more so than functionality and price, but this is subject to change for shared vehicles. Experts suggest function, for example, aerodynamics may drive exterior design in ACES vehicles. Design criteria such as A-pillar visibility, rear field of view, et cetera will become less critical since ACES vehicles may not have a human driver. However, vehicle designers will need to keep sensor, radar, lidar integration in mind.
While vehicle interiors have always been a focus, with the upcoming automated, shared vehicle technologies, interiors will take a central position in design thinking. For the past 100 years, automotive designers have imagined light-duty vehicles with seats facing the steering wheel. Automated vehicles might eliminate the concept of forward and rearward seating. Urban, short-haul vehicles might look like pods, and long-haul vehicles larger with greater cabin space, more comfort features, and improved aerodynamics to support high speeds. The interior design will likely feature biometrics, flexible seating, scratch and bacteria resistant material, replaceable components, smart surfaces, and personalized trims. Future regulations on interiors could guide seat design and positioning. Overall, design studios and packaging engineers will have greater freedom and increased opportunities in the future.
Another significant impact of ACES will be on durability, the ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage. When fleet owners rather than individuals control the vehicles, it makes good business sense to keep vehicles on the road throughout the day. Individually owned vehicles are in use for only five percent of the day today and are driven an average of 13,436 miles per year. On the other hand, the average New York City medallion taxi traveled 70,000 miles in 2014. Each taxi gave an average of 36 rides a day, with the average trip of 2.6 miles. The typical age of these taxis is 3.3 years. Experts suggest taxis are a good proxy for studying duty-cycles in ACES vehicles. Automated, shared vehicles might see peak demand during commuting hours and mostly sit idle for the rest of the day. Durability requirements will depend on peak demand and could also change due to increase in average vehicle occupancy (which could increase up to four). This will lead to high usage of components requiring improved structural durability. For example, doors will be open and closed multiple times per hour. ACES technology will also significantly affect durability of such as seats, carpets, interior trims, and electronics. CAR research has revealed; automakers are likely to engineer better vehicles which can last 10 to 15 years even with increased usage. This trend is already prevalent with the increased use of lightweight materials, stringent durability targets, extensive testing procedures, and increasing use of advance manufacturing technologies to produce mass and performance-optimized parts. The challenges lie in balancing performance and cost.
Lightweighting, which is crucial for meeting fuel economy standards and driving performance, will become vital for ACES vehicles for various other reasons. There are numerous factors that will add weight, for example, batteries, sensors and related components, components for passenger comfort, part redundancy, et. cetera. A CAR survey of nine automakers revealed automakers are considering mixed-material architectures for lightweighting. Specifically, use of higher strength steels will increase for up to five percent vehicle curb weight reduction; aluminum, magnesium, plastics will increase for five to ten percent vehicle curb weight reduction, and use of polymer composites will significantly increase for fifteen percent and beyond, the study found. In general, the selection of materials will depend on production volumes.
Safety will be another factor affecting design, durability, and material selection. Automated vehicles’ potential to save lives and reduce injuries is rooted in one critical and tragic fact: 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error. Fully automated vehicles that can see more and act faster than human drivers could significantly reduce errors, the resulting crashes, and their toll. ACES vehicles will need additional safety for sensors (lidars, radars, cameras, et. cetera). Speculations are high and opinions vary widely on safety regulations for the future automated vehicle. NHTSA is reviewing FMVSS standards regarding to automated vehicles and aims to update them in the future.
ACES will affect body, paint, and assembly shops as well. The automotive industry is exceptionally knowledgeable in high volume vehicle production as well as in the production of niche market products. Hundred years of experience starting from Ford’s assembly lines have increased productivity, improved quality, and reduced cost. Automakers are continually evolving their manufacturing techniques to further optimize their processes. Experts believe ACES technology will force automakers to rethink their manufacturing strategy. Most think there may not be a revolutionary change in manufacturing but will change existing processes in the long run. However, new players in fast-growing markets like China may completely revamp manufacturing since tradition and stranded capital investment in equipment do not shackle them. Innovative manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing (AM) could bring revolutionary change in stamping and tool shops. Moreover, shortened development cycles will force automakers to introduce technologies and processes with shorter lead times. In the world of ACES, flexible manufacturing will be crucial. Future vehicles bodies are expected to use different types of materials in subassemblies which will impact stamping, body shops, and paint shops. Sensors, radar, LIDARs, cameras, et. cetera will add complexity to general assembly and testing.
In conclusion, Automated, Connected, Electric, and Shared (ACES) vehicle technologies are compelling automotive engineers to reevaluate vehicle design, materials, and manufacturing technologies. Increased duty-cycles, emphasis on interiors, battery and sensor protection, and the changing customer perception over vehicle performance will change fundamental engineering requirements giving way to new materials and manufacturing technologies. As the vehicles lifecycle decreases, full recyclability and life-cycle-assessment will become critical. The timing of deployment and pace of technology introduction are affecting how new products are developed and by whom.
 Federal Highway Administration, US DOT, March 2018, https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/onh00/bar8.htm
 de Blasio, Bill and Yassky, David (2014). 2014 TLC Factbook. New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission