Autonomous or Driverless Cars! (Part I)

 

 

For some time, I had in mind to read and write something about Autonomous or Driverless Cars! I started reading about these sometime back; I am really fascinated by the technology involved. From whatever little I have understood; I feel that these cars will have higher technology involvement compared to EVs. ( Electric Vehicles) Anyway, making the drivetrain in IC Engines is technology wise more complicated than the making EV drivetrain. (EV drivetrain might feel complex today because it is new) I will keep on sharing with you the information (not knowledge) I will acquire over time. My initial attempt will be a little scattered as there many things to understand and absorb.

A self-driving car (sometimes called an autonomous car or driverless car) is a vehicle that uses a combination of sensors, cameras, radar and artificial intelligence (AI) to travel between destinations without a human operator. To qualify to be called fully autonomous, a vehicle must be able to navigate without human intervention to a predetermined destination over roads that have not been adapted for its use.

The companies which are already in this field are Google’s Waymo, Apple, Volvo, General Motors, Tesla, Volkswagen, Nissan, to name a few! Many of these companies are NOT into car manufacture but are developing this technology as they have the wherewithal! As usual, who will end up at the top in the race only time can tell. There will be mergers and acquisitions. To my understanding, only Apple and Google have the money to manufacture the cars too! But I have my serious doubts if they will get into car making.

Driverless1

The above graph is showing data from 10 companies. It shows the number of miles driven before the manual intervention is needed while driving autonomous cars. Waymo needed manual intervention after every eleven thousand miles, whereas Apple needed manual intervention after every 1.1 miles. It indicates that Waymo and GM Cruise are way ahead of others in this technology. It also shows the safety aspect too! If I have to buy a car, I will buy a car using Waymo technology.

Which other aspects need to be checked and discussed? To start with, I am going to deal with the type of automation that is available in these cars. I used to visualise that an autonomous car means there is no steering wheel, one sits in the car, punch the destination and start chatting with your flame. But, that is not what it is. There are five stages of automation.

  • Zero level starts with humans doing the driving.
  • Level 1 is an Advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) to aid the human driver with either steering, braking, or accelerating, though not simultaneously. ADAS includes rearview cameras and features like a vibrating seat warning to alert drivers when they drift out of the travelling lane. It means some automation starts at this stage. Currently, an automated clutch change system is available (not the Automatic-transmission) which changes gears based on the car speed, without human intervention. Clutch in the car is operated automatically, but there is no clutch pedal.
  • Level 2 is an ADAS that can steer and either brake or accelerate simultaneously while the driver remains fully aware behind the wheel and continues to act as the driver.
  • Level 3 is an automated driving system (ADS) that can perform all driving tasks under certain circumstances, such as parking the car. (Parking assist) In these circumstances, the human driver must be ready to re-take control and is still required to be the main driver of the vehicle.
  • Level 4 is an ADS that can perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment in certain circumstances. In those circumstances, the ADS is reliable enough that the human driver needn’t pay attention to driving.
  • Level 5 is the vehicle’s ADS that acts as a virtual chauffeur and does all the driving in all circumstances. The human occupants are passengers and are never expected to drive the car.

From the current information available the Level 5 is far away from reality. It is not about the autonomous system. But the new system will need changes in insurance policies and laws, legal aspects of driving and responsibilities in case of an accident.

Each of the companies has their vision for autonomous cars. I was surprised to find that Nissan Leaf, the Nissan EV is one of the leading Electric Vehicle, which also has added autonomous systems to some extent. What are those?

Driverless3

This button is called de-stress button. When you press this during driving on the highway, it does the following things.

  • It allows you to set a distance between the car ahead of you.
  • If required it comes to a full stop
  • When the traffic restarts, it starts driving back on its own!
  • It keeps the car at the centre of the lane while driving, and this is also done when there is a smooth curve, controlling the speed if required.

driverless4

The picture above is E-pedal. You can theoretically accelerate and brake with the same pedal. You press it; it goes boom! You start reducing pressure, it starts braking. But there is brake pedal available too, just in case! Even on the hilly roads, one can drive with a single pedal, if required.

There are many such features on these cars, but we will discuss them over a period. How are autonomous vehicles going to change many things? What benefit will they offer to humanity?

First and foremost is that the number of accidents can reduce. Accidental deaths will come down over a period. But there will be many legal changes needed. Laws will have to be made and passed by the highest authorities.

Another technical change is that these cars will generate significant and vital data. This data will have to be stored and processed online many times. It will develop a new field of data science. How this will change the car driving is anybody’s guess. Will it eliminate the jobs of many drivers? Only time will tell. One thing it has done. One company in Pune, a multinational, has hired several hundred people to process the visual data captured during testing by autonomous vehicles. The data is treated and uploaded into the database. So, some new types of jobs will get generated.

One new problem could come up. Both husband and wife will be relatively less stressed when they reach home in autonomous cars. So, they will have enough energy to restart the argument which had to be stopped as both went to office! But on a serious note, life on roads will be simpler over a period.

Advertisements

Our dream of Immortality!

There is a lovely Hindi song, “Tum Jiyo, Hazaro Saal, Saal ke Din ho Pachhas Hazar”!  The song is sung to celebrate a birthday and  means, “My dear, please live for thousand years and let each of the years have fifty thousand days.” It wishes immortality to the blessed soul. When we discuss human life, we always say that our life span is a hundred years! From where this number has come from is difficult to say. But it indicates the wish for immortality or longevity. Immortality is also discussed in mythology! Dronacharya’s son, Ashwathama, is supposedly immortal, and that is later considered as a curse or a punishment.

In our day to day life, there are many examples of mortality. Mortality is not a curse, but it is a fact of life. Dalai Lama had spoken about Shunyata in one of his discourses; it means emptiness. This emptiness means all the objects in the universe have no meaning unless we attach the meaning through our thoughts and beliefs! In the real world, the atoms and molecules exist independent of our mind. But our mind also exists independently, and we feel this when we are angry or happy! Anything that exists physically has a life span or shelf life. The span depends on many variables. But till the beginning of the 20th Century, the lifespan of humans was pretty low. Longevity was a word which came into discussion about a tiny number of people.

Still, the fascination for immortality continues. Why is it so?  We forget that everything has a specific life. With futility, we cling to that toiletry pouch long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighbourhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We want to go back to our roots. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and mandirs and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal life. In every nook and corner, nature is showing you that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our bodies, is shifting and evaporating, and one day will be gone. Where are the one billion people who lived and breathed in the year 1800, only two short centuries ago?

https://panvalkarpramod.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/another-view-point-the-native-place/

The above link is a blog I had written about native places. We get nostalgic about our good old native place where we spent our childhood. We remember that school where we spent an extended part of life. Some people keep on going to their native place ( गावाकडे or मुलुक ) every few years. They hope that everything has remained in the time frame when they have migrated elsewhere. But when they go there, they find most of the friends have left the place; those still left behind have changed beyond recognition. Their children don’t even know you. That old grocery shop is now converted to a modern-day cell phone shop selling Oppo and Samsung. Every visit, we see that our past memories are now becoming actual memories. Those teachers have died, the priest died 30 years back. There are more wine shops than shops selling those sweets which you enjoyed in childhood. There is a clear sign that things are changing, the old world is dying, withering, replaced by a new one. This change is happening in a short span of about 30/40 years. We don’t accept the changes, but inwardly, we know that the reasons for which we keep on going to the native place do not exist. The other day, I went on a road in Pune, where my grandfather used to live. Though I exactly knew the location where the Wada existed, I could see none of the old signs. Then suddenly I saw a flour mill or chakki from those days, that was still around! The sighting also brought a thought in my mind that in another five or ten years, the chakki will also be gone! Did I accept it? I am not sure. We humans do not accept the adage, “Time and Tide wait for none”!

Despite the preponderance of evidence against it, our culture strives for immortality and youth. We cling to a past like — photographs, memories of our children, old wallets and shoes. But it’s not only about our physical bodies that we want to be ever lasting. We struggle against every change — big and small.

We have seen these changes in real life, but we tend to ignore them until the last possible moment. Kodak and photography were considered synonyms. Till the ‘90s of the last century, other companies were called also-ran. Kodak invented digital photography but never understood its real potential. Well, Kodak does not exist any more. The change took place in front of their eyes in 20 years. Garware Nylons was a leading company, in Pune, and it prospered in front of our eyes. For various reasons, within 15 years of reaching its peak, it closed shop. There were many car manufacturing companies in the early part of the 20th century in the US. Only GM, Ford and Chrysler remained. Even GM and Chrysler were saved by the US government from Bankruptcy a decade ago.

The coast of Pacifica in California is a beautiful place to live. (The photos above)  But the sea erosion is eating away 8 inches of land every year. Those who did not understand the meaning of 8 inches per year are now suffering. In forty years, it meant almost thirty feet of erosion. People in that area have understood the real meaning of mortality!

Human life span is tiny, whereas the life span of the Universe is in terms of millions of years. Hence we hardly visualise any changes happening around us except for some happening in Pacifica. But let us not despair. In the cycle of mortality, some beautiful things and events have a life of a few hours. The night-blooming flower of Cereus or Brahmakamal blooms only once a year and has a life of a couple of hours. But during that night these flowers give us tremendous pleasure.   The other day a friend called to share the information that the plant in his home had 30 flowers in one night. He was really excited.

Why are we looking for immortality? Is it for pleasure? Is it enjoy life for an infinite period? Imagine you in the year 2219. I can not imagine what the world will be. I may be immortal, but my body cells may not be eternal, my muscles may not be immortal, nor may my brain be immortal! Will my contemporaries also be in a similar position? What will we do in those times?  Instead, it might be a good idea not to have immortality and in short span of life, be like Brahmakamal to your friends and near one; be a Brahmakamal those in your ecosystem. There are some great achievers who in the same life span cross the mountains of achievements and some reach the Mount Everest.

The joy of living life is an individual choice! Some are happy with the smallest of achievement and others are not happy even after climbing the Mount Everest! Immortality is not going to give us any special joy. But don’t forget that even the North Start (Dhruv Tara) is not immortal.  After a million years it might disintegrate into atoms and molecules. But one thing is is surely permanent and will always be available; that is God!  He will always be there as a concept and will last forever! Let us not try to imitate Him! We are humans!

End of the road for Diesel cars!

Maruti Suzuki declared today that they would not manufacture cars with diesel engines starting from 1st April 2020! That is the day on which BS 6 norms for pollution will be implemented in India. This time the government is very stringent, and it is declared that from this date, only the cars BS 6 norms will be registered. Forget the selling; there will be no registration of cars other than BS 6! It is a great thing that the government means business, now!

Engine1

But is this the beginning of the tumultuous scenario in the automobile domain? Is it a mini tsunami? Has this statement started indicating the way things would happen in the auto industry? All these years life was much more straightforward; introduce a new model, play around a bit with the price and periodically change pollution norms when government forces you. The smooth ride was the norm! But a statement by Maruti says that the cost of development of BS 6 compliant diesel engine and the cost of making the BS 6 engine will be so high that in the small car segment, customers may not be able to afford them. Currently, the price difference between petrol and diesel model of a car is around Rs. One Lac. They feel that this difference could be Rs.2/ lacs for BS 6 cars ( ten lacs is a Million). On a vehicle costing Rs. 5 to 6 lacs, difference of two lacs will be too much, and customers may not be able to afford these cars. For cars/SUV’s costing Rs.10/ lacs and above, though the difference will be similar, % increase would not be high. How this sector will perform from next financial year needs to be watched. For SUV (both mini/standard) good news is Maruti Brezza will not be sold; hence manufacturers will rush to pick up the market share up for grabs. Maruti, however, has left the option open for 1.5 L diesel engine cars, used in Brezza.

Diesel engine cost issue due to BS 6, was expected. Volvo has already declared that they will stop making diesel cars when the norms change from Euro 6 to Euro 7, because of the cost of development and the price of the vehicle. Compared to trucks, the number of cars sold is much higher hence a smaller number of diesel cars will be better from the pollution angle.

Why did people use small cars with diesel engines? The lower price of diesel was the main reason. These cars cost approximately Rs. One lacs, plus plus, more than petrol cars. If the usage of vehicles was not enough, then owning such a car was not cost effective. On top of this, diesel engines have periodic mandatory maintenance cost which petrol cars don’t have. In many cases, it was not viable to own a diesel engine car.

With the imminent entry of Electric Vehicles in large numbers, the market is expected to be shaken further. In the late ’90s of the last century, Toyota came up with Prius, their first Hybrid car. (For those new to this subject, a hybrid car is one which runs on petrol and battery combination; each manufacturer has its own combination of the technology) It was expected that Hybrid would be the future and Toyota was expected to be the leaders. Yes, they are still the leaders in Hybrids. But a maverick called Elon Musk decided to plunge into EV’s. General Motors had manufactured around 500 EV’s at the beginning of this century, but then what happened? Petroleum lobby made sure that this initiative was killed. A few years later GM scrapped the vehicles.

Engine2

Combination of Tesla’s efforts, cheaper battery sets (hopefully!) at some stage, fast charging technology are pushing humans towards EV’s. Range per charge still remains the primary concern. Add to this reduction in the price of solar systems is making cheaper fuel for the EV, the Electricity. Now, what is adding to making it more difficult for petroleum products further, are the pollution norms for diesel cars?

What will be the future of diesel engines in the car segment? In India, the overall car segment is under pressure. In the last financial year, four lac more old cars were sold than the number of new cars that were sold. It looks like more small vehicles are being sold in II and III tier cities. Will Maruti’s prediction about diesel engine cars affect thinking by other car manufacturers? Will they also go away from diesel engine cars? Only time will tell.

The current financial year is going to be very tricky for car manufacturers. Let me explain what is involved, as the last date on which the BS IV car will be allowed to be registered. That date is 31/3/2020. To achieve this target, they will have to attempt and sell BS VI models from 1/1/2020. To meet this date, they will be required to push in BS VI vehicles from 1/10/2019. During this transition period, there will be tricky scenarios. BS IV cars will be produced less and less, but customers may want to buy them, as these will be cheaper than BS VI models. There is a possibility that in certain areas there will be customers and no cars; in other areas, there will be cars but no customers. All unsold BS IV cars will have to be sent back to manufacturers for conversion to BS VI at a considerable cost. Predicting requirement from 1/10/2019 to 31/3/2020 is going to be a nightmare for sales teams and along with them the dealers. The trend of lower sales is going to add to the difficulties further.

Will everything be hunky dory after 1/4/2020? That is again a very tough question. To achieve better fuel efficiencies and to go away from petroleum products, there will be efforts to introduce hybrid cars. But except Toyota, nobody has real expertise in this area. The predicted numbers for 2030 are 30 % EV’s, 30% Hybrids and balance IC engine cars, mostly petrol and CNG version. Does it mean that it is a death knell to diesel cars?

Another prediction by Maruti is that for small EV’s, where numbers are high in the typical small car segment, the volumes can be tricky as the price could be between 9 to 12 Lacs. This price is based on battery packs being manufacture in India. Larger cars will cost much more, but the high-price segment is less sensitive to the price tag. How the volumes will be achieved in EV’s, will be difficult to predict. I have not even discussed the charging station infrastructure issues! In India, most cars are parked on the roads for the night, so how and when will the charging be done?

At least in India, there is a significant turmoil about where the car market will go? Will Maruti continue to lead the pack? Will others follow Maruti and go away from small diesel engine cars? Only time will tell.

Electric Vehicle-another revisit!

During a surprise visit by my grandnephew last night, we went for a quick bite of Idli-Dosa. He works for Tesla. We, of course, discussed the merits and demerits of the Idli-Dosa one gets in the bay area. As usual, it was concluded that you can’t beat the “original” stuff you get in India (it need not be from Chennai, even Pune Dosa is better!) The main subject of discussion naturally, was about EV’s. The original EV maker is Tesla! In such a debate, there never is any conclusion. What one does is exchange information and knowledge. So here we go!  

The development and now the production of EV’s is gaining momentum for higher and higher volumes. China is leading the pack, and almost 50% of global EV production is done in China. Technology wise Tesla is way ahead of the competitors. Tesla vehicles smoothly go 300 miles and above per charge. In fast charging technology, Tesla is ahead of others; they can do it in 30 minutes. Looking at our Pune Bombay travel on Expressway, if the 30 min/300 miles combination is achieved by our car manufacturers, then it is easily possible to make a round trip, the way we are doing with IC engine cars today. The same is possible with Nashik, Kolhapur, Aurangabad. But our car manufacturers are still lagging behind Tesla in the above combination.  

How fast can the EV’s come in daily use and what could be the limitations for them? What will affect the quick proliferation of EV’s? Other than Tesla all giants like Toyota, Honda, GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Fiat have the knowhow to make cars in large numbers, In fact, they have decades of experience in this field. But they are behind in Electric drive technologies and batteries needed for EV’s.  Tesla will struggle to reach large numbers like other giants. Elon Musk twitted Tesla achievement of producing 6000 in a week for the first time in the history of Tesla; Ford Europe CEO congratulated him on the twitter, “Elon congratulations on the great achievement! For your information, we achieve these numbers in four hours”!  This shows that replacing IC engine cars by EV’s in a significant way is not going to be so easy, yet. 

Except for Tesla, most companies making EV’s are having joint ventures, different joint ventures in different countries. Toyota has joined hands with Suzuki in India. They have jointly come together in India with Toshiba to make battery packs! It is interesting to note that Suzuki will make EV’s in India for Toyota too! For EV’s, Toyota is providing technology to Suzuki. Toyota has joined hands with Mazda for making EV’s in the US. What Google and Apple will come out with, is anybody’s guess. But there is a big drive going on for driverless cars. It is expected that in the US driverless cars or their variants may come faster than EV’s.  

Other than the points mentioned above, what factors will decide the proliferation of EV’s. If we see country wise, smaller countries might be able to handle this better because of geography. Creating charging infrastructure, changing laws, changing insurance policies will be much easier to incorporate. With the same logic, the EV numbers will go up in large countries, states or regions. Like in the USA, proliferation will be quite swift on the west and east coast but will take time in mid-Americas because of low population density and vast distances; add to that mountainous regions. 

One exciting event took place. A couple of weeks back, Tesla has opened up all its patents to the general public for use. Musk declared, “We are aware that Tesla alone can not achieve the car volumes required to improve the environment. We are opening up all our patents to everybody with a hope that this will improve EV production volumes fast.”

Similarly, in India, this will occur around metros like Delhi-NCR, Mumbai-Pune. Chennai-Bangalore, Surat-Vadodara-Ahmedabad. There are more such areas in India. But India has similar problems with long distances in rural areas with less car usage. But it will take some time of coast to coast driving in the US, and Kashmir to Kanyakumari drives in India to happen regularly.

  EV1

The graph above shows the reserves of Lithium in Metric tons in the year 2017. Lithium could be the next oil, and the top four could form the next Cartel, the Lithium Cartel. The battery pack is going to be the most crucial part that is going to limit the production of EV’s. As per current technology available, Lithium is the raw material for batteries. The four nations above are going to be next Arabs for the auto industry. The auto industry is one of the significant consumers of petroleum-based products. As EV production goes up, Arabs and other cartel members will come together and reduce petroleum prices; using IC engine cars will remain more attractive. This will make it attractive to make IC engine cars. So, what will be the product mix in 2030? That will be decided by many factors. 

The product mix in the year 2030 is predicted to be 35:35:30 of EV’s, Hybrids and IC Engine cars. The combination could vary a bit, but the general proportion will be as above. EV’s will be controlled by how car manufacturers other than Tesla adopt and ramp up with the limiting conditions of per charge mileage, least possible charging time and availability of battery packs.   

Hybrids are a combination of Electric drive and IC Engine drive. Hybrids are forced by the requirements of environmental norms; hybrids have a better carbon footprint compared to IC Engine vehicles. The volume of EV ramp-up will not be sufficient to achieve global improvement of environmental standards; hybrid will provide some relief.  

IC engine cars will contain a predictably higher percentage of Petrol cars. Diesel Engine cars are expected to get a major jolt by the year 2022/23 when Euro 7 norms come into existence. These norms will be extremely challenging for diesel engine manufacturers. The cost of development and manufacture of Euro 7 compliant diesel engines can be prohibitive. Volvo has already decided not to manufacture Euro 7 compliant diesel engines for cars.  

It appears that if Electric buses are made available, they will be quite useful and practical. In Pune, about ten Electric buses have started plying on the roads, about ten days back. On the first day, approximately forty thousand people travelled on these buses. Bus application is going to help the improvement of the environment in a big way. Today most of the buses everywhere are run on diesel. They are very polluting, extremely noisy and many times people travel in them because of the lack of other viable options.  

One interesting aspect I must mention. When EV’s are produced in large numbers, industries like casting, forging, heat treatment, furnaces will move towards extinction. Same will be with the car service industry. But as almost 70 % of cars are expected to have IC engines even in 2030, these industries will have more time to handle the life-threatening change.  

My personal experience with EV’s is minimal. I have visited Tesla showrooms a couple of times during my visits to Seattle. In our condo in Pune, a couple of people own Electric Scooters. I drove one of them for a few minutes. The feel was excellent. I have enjoyed a few rides in the Toyota Prius, the Hybrid, and it was a very pleasing experience. 

I am looking forward to owning an Electric Vehicle.  When? It is anybody’s guess!

 

Do we have it in us?

Historically, in the last two hundred years at least, we have seen nations moving from Agro Based economies to Manufacturing economies to Service based Economies. The latest classic example of this is China. From 7th decade in the last century, till today they have shown fascinating growth and China has become the manufacturing hub of the world. India was late in this transformation and we were forced into liberalization by the precipice we reached in 1992. India had no money to pay for foreign goods/debts and had to move their “family gold” (it is the gold stock that nations hold for such situations) abroad to borrow the money. Rest as they say is history. 

We reached a growth rate between six and eight % and the effect of that growth is seen all over India, in the last 25 years. But there is a twist in the story here. India has not exactly skipped the manufacturing phase of the growth but it appears that we are jumping more towards the Service based economy. I was wondering why this is happening and as usual, found that this is very complex to understand and even more complex to explain but still I am venturing into trying to explain.  

First and foremost, I feel that with the internet around and excellent connectivity world over, we all know what is happening anywhere in the world. What new products are available, what better gadgets are available is known the world over,  very fast. So, aspirations of the people change very rapidly. But the generations don’t become rich in such small durations. With 8% kind of growth and the speed of growth, this change is even more lopsided than in olden days. Rich are becoming richer faster and by leaps and bound. The disparity between the rich and the poor is galloping rapidly.  This is where the comparison between China and India always comes into the picture. There is no question that China has done much better than India during this period but at the same time, there are certain human aspects that need to be understood. 

China still has a lot of poverty but with the authoritarian government, they make sure to hide this fact. If required, they block websites which try to display such things. Beijing does have a large poor area, well hidden from prying reporters. If any reporter tries to break the government diktat, the reporters get thrown into jail. China simply crushes uprisings or behaviours they don’t like. In India, we are opposite to that. We have people in our society who love the display and discuss India’s poverty by making an argument about freedom of speech but the main reasons are always political. We have this history. In the olden days, 60’s in the last century, we had people like Satyajit Ray who took pride in producing films which advertised India’s poverty. By no means I am saying not to discuss our poverty, in fact, we as a nation should accept facts of life then only we can improve, denial mode is not going to help anyone. But pride in showing poverty is a bit too much.  

With an authoritarian government, it was very easy for China to declare one-child policy. This has brought down population growth rate drastically from 90’s of last decade. This helped China improve per capita income. In India, we tried family planning but it did not succeed as it was done half-heartedly. In poor strata of the society the family planning was a disaster and hence our per capita income showed an increase but not to the extent China could show!  

Government policies about manufacturing, imports and exports have changed very slowly over a period. With this, there was not much incentive for global giants to be in India. By the time they started coming in the bigger way, we see the reversal of trend due to other reasons. Electric Vehicles! EV’s are changing world scenario rapidly, though we may not see many EV’s on road for next five years, the development and investment patterns of these giants are now changing and trying to adapt to their new global strategies based on EV’s. India is not a priority for them! For their own reasons GM and MAN trucks have withdrawn from India and some more are expected to do so. But what happens in China? India’ pride and numero uno, Suzuki has completely withdrawn from China. In India, its share is more than 50% but in China, it was less than 1% of the market! This indicates that Chinese and Indian market requirements are poles apart. Hence, bigger and larger want to be in China and not India!

Another thing that happened in between was Y2K. I am not still sure if it was a real problem! Not a single failure of any system was declared in the world when on 01/01/2001, the Sun rose in the sky! To me, it was more of hype than the real problem. Indian service company giants made a real killing out of it! There came up new industry czars and they popularized the culture of white-collar subcontractors. It was good for the country that finally we started making big money. We started to have a society of young millionaires initially in Rupee terms, then in dollar terms too! Life has been Roses all the way. So, why bother to disturb the bandwagon.

There were some hopes in the industry when small companies like Quick Heal and Tally started making software products but this trend never caught up for the fear that we will lose on easy money. Yes, there appeared to be the trend which showed some changes a couple of years back. But these were due to one Mr Trump who started changing visa rules for our service giants. Not because the Giants wanted to change their ways and go up the value chain! What’s in a name? As long as hot dollars keep coming in the kitty nobody is bothered. Even in the IT industry where we supposedly have thousands of trained manpower, we have missed on things like IOT, AI, the Virtual reality which are already on the way. Are we ready for this? Using these new things company’s world over are creating “products”. Do our glorified contractors have the gumption to take up the challenge? Do they have will to fight it out with Silicon Valleys of the US, Israel? Or do we want to remain service providers to these new product companies? I am hearing the names like Tally and Quick Heal of the new era but I am honestly doubtful that big shots will take it up. Probably, it is better to be the doyen of the industry with billions in the pocket, giving talks blah blah blah. Why bother about being a struggling product creator?  

I am always positive about everything, but I am really not sure of service providers switching to a new avatar of products manufacturer. There are always very few Steve Jobs and Bill Gates! India has already jumped to service industry in the transition!  

Auto Industry 2040?

WOW! MMG! DISCO! These could be names of some of the leading auto component industries in the year 2040! Why have I selected the year 2040? Simply because everyone is talking of this year for the introduction of electric cars in a big way; from this year onwards, the real downward trend in the manufacture and use of IC engines in the vehicles, as we know them today, will begin. I am merely assuming that the cars will be available, similar to the cars of today. Masses of cars will be driven by humans, they will have a steering wheel and a power plant/train to give them. They will have some form of braking, the electrical system handling various functions, wheels and body with fuel storage area, air conditioning, and so on! Things inside could be fancier with more and more entertainment, superior navigation abilities, drivers may become more stress-free as cars systems will be able to understand many things and may take over some functions from humans. Internet of things (IOT) will allow things that are not even thought of today.

This is part of the evolution of the human race, but this could be the culmination of major change that is taking place currently. The “new” car industry is putting its toddler’s steps today. Evolution is nature, as everything in this world is always evolving! The primary driver for these changes is computers and computer chips. The car industry will be using different chips and will capture lots of data generated by various systems. This data will be in an endless loop and will allow cars to function more and more efficiently.

What will be the difference in the cars of today and those in 2040? Today’s power plant, the Engine & Drive train will be replaced by Batteries and Motors. Today’s drive train, gearboxes etc. will just be not there. The exhaust system, as is known today, will be simply not be needed because there will be no IC engine, both Petrol and Diesel. Gearbox and the whole system is really not needed because their function can easily be handled by Electric Motors. Even today, in electric cars, there is a single gear which reduces the RPM to what is needed to drive the car at allowed speeds!

Many companies are manufacturing the components that are discussed above. These components may become redundant over some time due to the introduction of electric cars. Bosch, Denso, Continental, Valeo, Aisin Seiki are some of the major players that manufacture the cluster of these components. These companies together manufacture products worth US $200/ billions every year.  These products may comprise of 40% to 70% of their current turnover. The giants must be already studying the questions that have come to my mind. How are they handling these questions? I am sure it’s a tough call to all of them though they have the wherewithal and deep pockets to handle difficult situations. Some have started making navigation products, some are building parking assist, camera -related systems. But suddenly new names are being heard in these discussions as vendors. CISCO, NVIDIA are some of them. Some are direct vendors to car makers, and some are vendors to components manufacturers.
Where is the real scope for new development and business? Battery packs, battery charging technology to increase per charge distance that the cars can travel today! All other developments that are computer related can also happen in IC engine cars too! TESLA is already building a giga factory for their Battery Packs! So will the “new” component business be taken over by Car Manufacturers? Suzuki, Toyota and Toshiba are coming together in India for big battery plant! What happens to smaller manufacturers of these components? Will they survive the major change? Will “WOW! MMG! DISCO!” replace them? Only time can tell.

In car making, after a long time, new name TESLA, started coming into prominence. TESLA came mainly for the new product offering. It appears that technology like fashion goes round! Till the first two decades of the last century, IC engine based transportation was not very popular. Trains used steam, cars used electric power plants; but battery technology could not catch with the then needs. Hence IC engine cars and trains became popular. From the existing car manufacturers, some are already manufacturing electric cars more than what TESLA is producing. On top of that, they have a running profitable business producing IC engine cars. But one thing is for sure they have the humility and know where they lack. Look at what Volkswagen Brand CEO Deiss has to say about TESLA! 

VOLKSWAGEN brand CEO Diess has said that VW which manufactured 5,987,800 cars last year has to catch up with Tesla which produced 83922 cars last year. “Tesla belongs among the competitors which has abilities that we currently do not have,” Diess said in the interview with “Inside”, a publication for VW employees. Around half of Tesla’s engineers are software experts, while at VW’s core brand it is a much lower proportion, Diess said. Tesla has good electric motors, a fast charging network, autonomous driving technology, internet connectivity, and a new approach toward vehicle distribution. “This shows that we need to significantly improve. We can do this. We measure ourselves against Tesla quite deliberately. Our goal: Using our abilities not just to catch up, but even to overtake,” Diess drives an electric VW Golf.

 Current giants have ready infrastructure and eco system to make and sell millions of cars. They of course lack the Electric car eco system as mentioned by Diess above. Their main struggle will be recharging stations for electric cars; but TESLA is also going face the same problem! The question arises if TESLA, a loss making company, a start-up, survive? Let’s look at the startups from the Silicon Valley and the west coast, who really made it big in the computer industry sunrise era. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple they all became very big with the products/services that never existed before. TESLA is pitted against the giants for making existing products where the main “driver” is only a different technology! That’s a huge disadvantage. Fighting against giants, who have woken up a bit late, like Mercedes, Honda BMW, Toyota, GM, Ford, Fiat, Hyundai is going to be very very tough for TESLA! Some of these giants are also going to suffer or may merge! My take, ESLA may cease to exist  by 2040 or even earlier as it is known today! Takeover? Maybe! 

 

Electric cars, are they round the corner?

Definition of inflexion point: a point on a curve that separates an arc concave upward from one concave downward and vice versa. The term inflexion point was first used by Andy Grove in his book “Only the Paranoids Survive”. An inflexion point can be there in anybody’s life on in the business cycle of the industry. It indicates the total change in the scenario or makes and break situation. The diagram showing the point of inflexion.

 Inflexion point

I visualise a significant point of inflexion in the automobile industry shortly. Different views are floating regarding when the Electric Cars will be mass produced. The year mentioned fairly regularly is 2030! That’s not really far! Why this is going to happen and whether it will happen at all will be based on many factors. Currently, the volume of Electric cars manufactured the world over is not significant. But Nissan, BMW, Ford, GM, Mahindra in a small way and of course Tesla is already making electric cars. I have heard that Toyota plans to come up with a fully electric car by 2019.

 2016electric cars predictiongraph

This is the forecast sale of electric cars as a percentage of total car sales, for the year 2016 but I could not get the real figures. Japan at 9.7% is highest in the number of total cars produced and China at 0.9% is the lowest %. France, Great Britain, Germany, USA, South Korea, Spain are there in between.

 What will give the boost? What factors are going to push this production? When will the momentum gather for the switch to mass production? When will the point of inflexion be reached? Primary factors considered in the usage of automobiles are its price, fuel cost, car driving range, parts cost and main is the cost of ownership. Besides this battery charging infrastructure is going to be the most important aspect that will make or break this change.

 Price factor for electric cars appears to be in reasonable control even without mass production. In the cost of electric cars “Engine & drive train” needs to be brought down; all other things remain the same. When Tesla started producing cars, people looked at it as Elon Musk’s fancy! Tesla is working as a start-up, but it is somehow managing to survive financially. Now they are also coming up with an affordable sedan. Slowly big giants like BMW, GM and others have woken up. The initial experiment started with Toyota’s Prius hybrid. The thinking was to just increase the fuel efficiency of the existing car system, and Prius hybrid was the first successful attempt. But it was definitely a minor change in thinking and not the game changer like fully Electric car. As per current thinking even in India, Government has increased the Tax on hybrids. When asked, the minister said, “When Electric cars are the future why bother about hybrids!” Electric cars will, of course, need Government support by way of lower taxes to make them attractive for buyers. Government support will also be needed for battery charging infrastructure.

 The second factor is the cost of fuel. With many shocks offered by Petroleum politics, the world has been looking to go away from fossil fuels. Plus the world has woken up to climate change and is aggressively looking to control pollution. Cars are known to be significant pollutants. Stringent control is being sought on exhausts from cars. But this will happen only in newer cars, old polluting cars cannot be wished away. Volvo has made a statement that the cost of manufacturing car systems to match pollution norms in 2022/23 will be so high that they will stop making diesel engines. To overcome the pollution issue, Germany has declared that by 2030 only electric cars will be manufactured in Germany. To achieve this target, they will really have to work hard, but German car makers have the technology, financial clout, will and wherewithal to achieve this target; they are working very aggressively. Best non-polluting fuel obviously is electricity. But the cost of producing electricity was a major factor hindering its usage in cars using battery banks and of course the cost of batteries. Solar and wind energy seem to be galloping ahead of other sources to make electricity cheap. The classic example is Germany. On a day in 2016, 85% of electricity produced in Germany, was from non-conventional methods.

https://energytransition.org/2016/05/germany-nearly-reached-100-percent-renewable-power-on-sunday/

With the abundance of cheap electricity, on that day the rates of electricity went in negative in tendering process! Recently, California produced 67% of electricity, on a particular day,  by non-conventional methods causing serious disruption in electricity pricing mechanism! World over including India, Solar and other non-conventional methods are very aggressively pursued. By 2030 it looks like the world will easily achieve the goal of cheap fuel in the form of electricity!

Currently, when we travel by car, we do not think how much distance we are going to travel. This is because fuel infrastructure is fully established world over. Whenever needed, we just refuel and move ahead. This is not going to be so easy, at least today, in electric cars. There are two major points. First is charging stations and second is charging time. Both need to be vastly improved. Charging time is the evolution of technology, in cell phones, rapid charging technology is already available, so maybe it’s a matter of time when we get this in car battery charging. Charging infra, of course, has to come up, but when the number of electric cars increases, the infra will come up. The range per charge is also a matter of technology, so hopefully, it will rapidly increase. Similar to what we do today while driving long distance, we should be able to stop for coffee and washroom break and get batteries recharged. Lo, we are on the way! 2030 very much possible. But my take is that this will happen faster in Europe, Japan & Korea because such things are national policies and are easier to implement in these areas because of the smaller size of the nations plus most of European nations, are developed nations.  In geographically large countries like Uthe S, Canada and China plus India, this change may happen region wise or state wise starting with highways. City limits will adopt faster as people can charge their cars in their own homes. 

 Replacement parts and cost of ownership are combination factors. In the electric cars, drive train, exhaust systems as we know them today, will simply be not there being replaced by battery packs, motors & drives. Less number of mechanical parts is going to definitely reduce the repairs and servicing cost. This factor has nothing to do with 2030. As the cost of ownership comes down, more people will be interested in driving electric cars.

 Another major change is going to be the nature automotive components industry. When major systems like drive trains & exhaust system are not needed, current manufacturers will find in a drastic reduction in parts needed by industry; over a period these will be only needed in old cars. With a mandate to supply parts for ten years, 2040 will be the last straw on the back of the Camel for this industry assuming by 2030 electric cars will be used in large numbers. How will current component manufacturers of these components handle change? Will they start making parts needed for electric cars? Do they have the technology? Only time can tell? How will Bosch’s, Conti’s, Denso’s and Valeo’s of this world handle the situation only time can tell. I am sharing one important information about the change that has already happened. Nvidia Graphics, www.nvidia.com  producing chips and cards with their GPU technology are already vendors for Toyota, Mercedes, Audi, Honda, BMW, Volvo. This is because of the rapid increase in usage of onboard computers to perform various functions, including self-driving cars. Five years back, I am not sure if Nvidia name was much known in the automotive world! Point of inflection? Yes my friends this is the point of inflection and in this business jungle, snipers in the form of technology are hiding! You never know when you will get your bullet! Yes, my conclusion,” ELECTRIC CARS ARE COMING IN A BIG WAY BY 2030”!