Designers and motor manufacturers are turning into reality the mythic visions of hands-free driving, clean engines that talk to you, and even cars that fly.  Our team took a peek under the bonnet of the auto industry to see how the rest of the sector is keeping up – and discovered many companies are keeping their feet firmly on the ground.

PIONEER PAVEL BREZINA pulls off the city highway and onto the filling station, taking care not to poke fellow motorists with the long rotor-blade overhanging the windscreen of his tiny flying car.  Along with better-known inventors and entrepreneurs like Google founder Elon Musk, he’s one of a growing modern army of ‘magnificent men’, perhaps inspired by science fiction – or the parodied antics of those early 20th century aviators – to tiddly-up-upturn the automotive industry. 

Innovation and change has become very serious business around the world across both the transport and the energy sectors, faced with demands from governments and a consumer crescendo to reduce carbon and toxic emissions.  Electric vehicles were early over the starting line, although the energy is not necessarily from renewable sources.  Charging points are now de rigueur on blueprints for the humblest multi-storey car park and on-street bay.  Hydrogen stations are also popping up around the world, albeit serving fuel that often still relies on electricity for its generation. 

Creators of driverless transport are ironing out teething troubles such as how to detect the proximity of other vehicles, people and obstacles, while lawyers debate who to blame if the technology fails.  

Blah blah blah


Elon Musk

Elon Musk is revolutionizing transportation both on earth and in space.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is revolutionizing transportation both on earth and in space.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is revolutionizing transportation both on earth and in space.

So how is the supply chain responding? To find out, we visited what is arguably the world’s leading trade fair for the automotive service industry, the Automechanika trade fair, which has editions across the world. The show in Birmingham, UK, was co-located with SubCon, another show aimed at engineering subcontractors – from spanner manufacturers to innovative grinding companies.

With nearly 350 exhibitors from 22 countries, the UK trade show offers a chance to take the temperature of international trade – and to reflect on the impact of the new political relationship with the rest of Europe.

China and the EU (except UK) each made up one quarter of the overseas exhibitors at the show, with Poland, Germany and France together constituting an eighth. Only 4 companies visited from the whole of the Americas. The highest profile at SubCon was a delegation of 40 companies from India.

The findings of our straw-poll are borne out by a comprehensive survey of the global supply chain carried by IBM [in ????], interviewing nearly 400 senior executives from 25 countries and 29 different industries. Researchers spoke with 33 supply chain executives from automotive companies, including original manufacturers of light vehicle, truck and heavy equipment (OEMs), suppliers and service providers.

So how does the future look to the mechanics, shopkeepers and other businesses in the supply chain of automotive services?

We discovered a surprising scepticism. Perhaps connected, a huge challenge of skills, which has created a plethora of new trainers, armed with apps and qualifications. [Someone to quote on this?]

Digital technology is having a most profound effect. It’s connecting manufacturers, suppliers, mechanics and drivers, increasing flexibility and productivity, and shortening time to market. It’s part of Industry 4.0, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, names for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies – including cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.

Interaction between humans and machines, with sensors sending alerts when parts need replacing. Most visible to the to the customer is the impact of digital technology on the driver experience, with seductive luxury and entertainment systems, with closed internet portals creating valuable opportunities for marketers to elicit personal data. It’s sparked a flurry of software programmers moving into the auto market.

Sam Clark of Conjure believes this represents an opportunity to demonstrate what a connected experience can be like for the modern driver and highlights Tesla and Audi as two who have taken great strides in developing Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs). "Many automotive brands, particular larger and more traditional ones, have struggled to adapt ageing or large supply chains to meet that new competition. Companies like Tesla have no legacy platform to hold them back and are really blazing a trail. The auto industry as whole is aware it needs to catch up and innovate but it’s occasionally held back." 

A major hurdle for the manufacturers is building trust.  From April 2018, all cars sold in the European Union must be fitted with eCall, a new system to bring rapid assistance to motorists involved in a collision. eCall was made mandatory in all new cars sold within the EU from April 2018. “The consumer is still adjusting to this new tech and starting to learn where they feel the privacy boundaries lie.  If you crash your car, it’s likely it will alert the police, insurance and your loved ones.  But some people don’t want to be tracked every step of their way.” 

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