The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the automotive industry haven't spared big-picture trends like shared mobility, but the "vision" of that future isn't going anywhere, speakers from supplier ZF Friedrichshafen and automaker Audi say.
During an Aug. 18 panel at the TU-Automotive Detroit virtual conference, Anupam Malhotra, director of connected vehicle and data at Audi of America, said that understanding shared mobility is "affected permanently" by the global health crisis, and it is important to move forward with developing those kinds of business models.
"I think it's too easy for us to say that a megatrend that has been a reality for the last 15-20 years ... all of a sudden shifts and becomes not important anymore because of the events of three to six months," Malhotra said. "I think what we need to capture is what exactly in these three to six months that could be long term.
"There needs to be some kind of a rethink in terms of what we can do to meet customer expectations," he said. "On the other hand, I think there are some interesting ideas already emerging in that space."
Shared vehicles are expected to rely on easy-to-clean surfaces for interiors, which will focus on plastics. Electric vehicles, meanwhile, use more plastics in connectors, wiring and battery systems.
Claes Herlitz, vice president and head of connected vehicles at Stockholm-based telecommunications company Ericsson, said that in light of the pandemic, the concept of car-sharing "needs redefining."
"I can see some hesitating moves," Herlitz said. "On the other hand, we must recognize that buses and trains are seen as a threat to our health and we're promoting smaller buses, and that might be even autonomous taxis.
"The entire transportation industry is making great moves as a consequence of COVID-19," he added.
Herlitz does not think the pandemic will have a direct effect on the prospect of future electrification developments.
"We see an accelerated view on EVs," he said. "We've seen some markets in Europe where the tax situation is changing in favor of EVs. I think in this aspect the U.S. needs to shape up if they would like to catch up. It's not only up to the OEMs; it's also up to the U.S. as a country and the various states. … Currently the trajectory is that China will go faster than everyone else."
Meanwhile, Malhotra said Audi of America isn't changing its sense of urgency for bringing electrified vehicles to the market. The American consumer, he said, "is beginning to see the value of what cleaner-running vehicles bring."
"I think there's a perception, and I think this is a European viewpoint, that the American market does not value EVs as much as they are in European society," Malhotra said.
"Even our worst case estimates this year," Malhotra said, "we might be down by about 25 percent or so this year in terms of total sales. But the push for cleaner vehicles is certainly not taking a hit here. … We're introducing three plug-in models in the U.S. in the next three model years."
Christophe Marnat, vice president of global electronics and ADAS division of ZF, said that while "there is certainly some catalyst in Europe and in China in terms of the adoption of electrification," he doesn't think the U.S. auto industry "is going to allow itself to be left behind."
Marnat said the pandemic will affect the timeline of new investments and developments in automation, but not much "has changed in terms of the destination."
"I don't think this vision has changed," he said. "The journey might be a little longer … to see a level 3 or level 4 [autonomous] passenger car on every street, but overall the question is how can we get to a wider adoption of level 2+ solutions and how to we bring this solution in a cost-efficient and competitive manner."
The key to get there, Marnat said, is collaboration and partnership between OEMs and suppliers, which are already coming together to bring technology to the market faster.
"I'm going to ask companies, suppliers, systems suppliers to provide ADAS [advanced drive assistance solutions] in a customized manner so that I can show to the end consumer that they can get access to a good level of assistance at a reasonable price," Marnat said. "To be frank, I think we were already there before. … The pandemic might accelerate that."