James Davis' latest blog

James Davis new blog

Connect the dots - the SMMT connected conference

A few weeks ago I attended the SMMT Connected Conference and I can honestly say I loved every minute of it, so much so that I couldn’t resist writing a blog that gives a full overview of the day.

I think it’s a pretty good read, so if you have a few minutes to spare please do take a look at the unabridged version. For those of you that are in a hurry, here are my top five takeaways from the day:

  1. Agustin Martin, CEO of Toyota Connected Europe predicted that, by 2030 traditional vehicle sales will fall from the current 94% to 63%, while Connected and Mobility sales will rise from 6% to 37%. Interestingly, he also said that it’s Google, Facebook and Apple, rather than other manufacturers, which keep him awake at night.
  2. The panel discussion on mobility revealed that OEMs and start-ups are investing billions in connectivity, autonomy and mobility solutions. There’s clear recognition that experimental technology requires a bold and confident investment strategy, although for the OEMs, these new divisions seem to operate very separately from the parent company.
  3. When it came to the question of sharing open data vs GDPR and cyber-security questions, my key takeaway was the re-focus on the individual consumer and the importance of advising them what their driving data would be used for. With 5G massive amounts of data can be stored from vehicles. Data to improve safety is clear. Data mapping driver behaviour with a commercial value to third parties is a different and more serious concern.
  4. Huge progress has been made in autonomous vehicles, despite the mind-bending complexity involved. The expert opinion is that full autonomy, in which everyone in a car is essentially a passenger, will be “viable” by 2030.
  5. Mike Hawes, chair of the SMMT, closed the event positively. The government supports the UK’s continued dominance as a centre of excellence for the development of autonomous vehicles, but he warned against complacency due to the speed of development. Connected and autonomous technology has the potential to do great things - it could save 3,900 lives lost in road traffic deaths, create 420,000 jobs and have a £62 billion economic benefit to the UK by 2030.

This really is just a snap shot of what was discussed – if any of the points above have tickled your fancy or if, like me, visions of the future for our industry get you all fired up, please read on…

The SMMT Connected Conference (unabridged)

Thursday 4th April I attended my first ever #SMMTConnected conference in London. Parked outside the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster, within a stone’s throw of the Houses of Parliament, were several sponsor vehicles; from driverless electric autonomous 4 seat pods to an Addison Lee Oxbotica autonomous taxi and a Range Rover prototype test vehicle; all rigged with cameras and sensors galore to permit autonomous driving.

Mercedes were showing their new Actros tractor unit, bristling with technology including automatic pedestrian braking and an industry first – no rear view mirrors! Replacing these traditionally large units are cameras, displaying the view in the cab thus avoiding driver distraction. Additionally a 3% reduction in drag at 56mph. All “old” mechanical switches are replaced with an LCD touchscreen which permits full app integration with telematics suppliers, route planning and even remote diagnostics. Clever stuff.

On into the conference, a sell-out event with over 450 delegates from across the industry including OEM, tech, vehicle connectivity and end user sectors. I bumped into two of my colleagues from Modix, a Cox Automotive business. It was great to reflect with them throughout the day on all the thought provoking content, opinion and views.

This really was the most interesting conference I have ever attended. Now you might say I don’t get out much – (although if you follow me on social media you’ll know that’s simply not true!) So why do I say that? Well because as recently reinforced by our own CEO, Martin Forbes, our industry is going through enormous change. Disruption is the key driver. Our recent joint venture with Dealer Auction is proof of this; disrupting our existing physical wholesale model and morphing it into a digital wholesale model with multiple online shop windows, portals and data feeds. We’re listening and reacting to our customer demand; it’s meeting their changing requirements and business models. This digital shift mirrors that seen currently in retail; digital retail embraces the online end to end process of ordering brand new cars, including test drives and part exchange valuation. All without needing to visit a dealer until the fulfilment handover is required. This world is changing so quickly.

I believe we will see more change in the next 5 years than I have in my 25 year career. And this conference, in just one day, underpinned this. The format was a blend of key note speakers and panel sessions; a perfect way to dissect the current and future direction of connected and autonomous technology. We heard from a government minister about the UK’s global dominance in the mobility and autonomous research fields. About London being a global centre for excellence in this field. And five years ago you may have sniggered at the reason; I didn’t know London was a global powerhouse of computer game design. But don’t laugh; there are so many similarities in computer gaming algorithms and autonomous driving programming. The only thing I found funny on reflection was the computer games I played as a child; Snake, loaded on a cassette and used a modem…..the work done today is breath-taking to a non-techie like me.

Justin Webb, Radio 4 presenter, was our excellent Master of Ceremony. A key theme running through the day was the need to be agile. Agility is crucial with the current speed of change, a paradigm shift no less. First keynote speaker was Agustin Martin, CEO of Toyota Connected Europe. I was surprised to learn that division was set up back in 2000 and today employs 700 people across 7 cities! Their prediction is that, by 2030 traditional vehicle sales will fall from the current 94% to 63%. Conversely Connected and Mobility sales will rise from the current 6% to 37%.

My key takeaways were Toyota global president’s video clip, ending “Google, Facebook and Apple keep me awake at night. My mission is to take us from an auto maker to a mobility business. Like those brands, Toyota didn’t start by making cars.” That was incredibly powerful.

Then we heard from the President and Group CEO of Aston Martin Lagonda, Dr Andy Palmer. In a refreshingly straight talking manner he outlined a sound future for the key global luxury brands including Aston Martin and the soon to be relaunched Lagonda, which will be their EV showcase. His belief was based on the supply and demand; these luxury brands are not a homogenised mainstream commodity. His luxury brands represented “emotion in motion” and whilst they are working collaboratively with other OEMs on shared connected and autonomous technologies, he called out volume OEMs suggesting they had to cease their obsession with “stacking high and selling cheap” and chasing every unit no matter what the cost - including pre-registration.

Panel session 1 was “Smart Mobility”. What was fast becoming clear to me was that OEMs and start ups are investing billions to a mantra our own CEO uses: “fail fast”. That sounds negative. It isn’t. It’s about a recognition that experimental technology requires a bold and confident investment strategy. If it doesn’t work, keep going and re-focus. It feels counter intuitive in the last decade of austerity, margin pressures and cost controls. It is clear a large proportion of mobility and connected start-ups and initiatives have been and will continue to be unsuccessful. They key is that billions and billions are being spent globally.

Nirvana is the launch of an end to end transport aggregator, not just citywide or countrywide but globally, a platform that allows a user to plan and pay for multi-modal end to end journeys. Reality is that this is unlikely as there are too many commercial models impacted; it’s not about a race to the bottom cost wise. In reality each mobility provider will try and supply vertical integration, competitor integration is the biggest hurdle to overcome, if ever it can be.

Another striking takeaway for me is the OEM behaviour and activity. Somehow, almost counter-intuitively, they have created breakaway divisions covering mobility, connectivity and autonomy. These new kids on the block are growing exponentially. Housed in new, open plan physical office locations near talent pools of developers and start ups. They’re making multi-billion dollar investments in acquisitions and mergers. But to me these new divisions “feel” very separate to the parent. As a grandchild I was always tasked to set up new household technology by my grandmother. It has the same feel. Clearly the cultural shift and reinvention for OEMs has been called out by some; work to do for others.

There was a large amount of noise about collaboration. About mobility and connectivity providers knowing the issues they needed to overcome at a local level. Transport For London cited their partnership approach, sharing anonymised data to help with dynamic route planning and predictive modelling. Far more than meets the eye to a London road user; I discovered London is the most surveyed city in the world from a traffic camera perspective.

What is clear is one size does not fit all when it comes to mobility and connected vehicles. The most efficient method of moving people in our medieval European street layouts is in bulk, not by putting more cars or pods on the roads. A key lesson learnt early on is that global cities have cultural differences; views on car sharing and driverless operations. Likewise this is not going to happen overnight. There will be step changes is technological and cultural advances.

Panel session 2 was “Data and the Digital Ecosytem” and considered the challenge of sharing open data versus GDPR and cybersecurity data breaches. Insurance concerns had been overcome and UK legislation passed to rubber stamp it. Key takeaway for me was the re-focus on the individual consumer and the importance of advising them what their driving data would be used for. With 5G massive amounts of data can be stored off the vehicles. Data to improve safety is clear. Data mapping driver behaviour with a commercial value to third parties is a different and more serious concern. If one road junction sees a high incidence of ABS application and steering wheel inputs then insight directs activity to authorities to potentially redesign the junction. Makes sense. It was also clear that the imminent 5G technology rollout needed to cover where people travel not simply flooding where people live; immense investment is required to underpin the future of connective and autonomous transport.

After lunch we enjoyed two keynote speakers; they gave a detailed technical glimpse into the future of autonomy. I’d recommend you research the 5 levels of autonomy, it’s too complex to explain here. Whilst we are already at Level 2 autonomy (driver aids such as adaptive cruise, lane control) in production environments (The Mercedes Actros being a great example), experts seem to be most wary of level 3 as ultimately this it is the ‘big brother’ pivot point; such as blanket application of speed limits. Effectively the higher the autonomy number the less involved the “driver” is in decision making and at its peak at level 5, they become a passenger. The expert opinion is full level 5 autonomy will be “viable” by 2030. That said Waymo have already invested $6 billion in developing a vehicle that recently drove fully autonomously for 11,000 miles before “disengaging”. A decade ago the longest distance (off road) was 4 miles before the vehicle hit a sand bank. The Range Rover parked outside the venue had recently handled the complex Coventry ring road at the 40mph limit; changing lanes and merging with traffic, including leaving at junctions. Developments are moving faster and faster.

The amount of computer processing power required is simply staggering. A current test fleet of 30 cars each has 12 cameras. 1 Perabyte of data is collected per week. (That’s 1000 Terrabytes or a Quadrillion Bytes). It is so much data it needs a team of 1500 people to label it. It needs labelling so that a part physical/part cloud based computer system can piece it all together with algorithms and predictively map the driving of a vehicle. A label could include identification of a road sign or a vehicle at a junction. But that processing requirement is overshadowed by the working database, a testing database that autonomous software needs to query; to check the camera feed against “memory”. That database is 15 Perabytes. Mind boggling. That’s the processing and memory power of over 1500 of the largest desktop computers. And of course modelling needs to consider weather conditions, light levels, connected vs unconnected vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists….I think you get the picture.

Further consideration was insurance. In the new world insurance is likely to take the form of a data feed as opposed to a paper certificate. The ability for an insurance company to receive realtime data and influence the coverage based on driving behaviour. An additional point made was that some development spin-offs would benefit the wider society and sub level 5 autonomy levels; in the same way NASA gifted us all Teflon from its space programme. But it is clear many start up and research businesses need to join forces; the investment required is beyond immense.

The final panel session considered trials and approaches in the US, Germany and London. It was interesting to hear the feedback from the State of Nevada, with some road users trying to drive autonomous cars off the road, some pedestrians throwing rocks and stones at them and some passengers willingly jumping on board. It was clear that legislation needed to keep pace with technological advances, as one example given was a Russian tech business that took a standard production car and converted it to fully autonomous in just 2 weeks for it to be driving Las Vegas streets unchecked during a global tech conference.

Mike Hawes, chair of the SMMT, closed positively. Government supported the UK’s continued dominance as a centre of excellence but warned against complacency due to the speed of development. Connected and autonomous technology could save 3900 lives lost in road traffic deaths, create 420,000 jobs and have a £62 billion economic benefit to the UK by 2030. It is estimated 20% of miles travelled by consumers could be automated by 2030; 1 in every 5. So whilst 2030 is 11 years away, the feeling I was left with was the global mission to win the race to deliver solutions.

On a personal note I was disappointed to see the lack of diversity in the audience; reflective of the automotive industry. It must have been 90% men. Helen Wylde from Connected Place Catapult called it out in their sponsored panel session. She told the story of how her father, an engineer, encouraged her to be involved in the sector. She appealed for all the fathers in the room to support their daughters the same way. At Cox Automotive we celebrate diversity and inclusion; Beryl Carney from JCT600 recently won our inaugural Barbara Cox Award; a £5000 bursary for personal development. So much change, so much disruption. If we don’t have the most diverse set of minds and approaches we won’t win. And we are going to win; we’ve just celebrated our 120th anniversary and the opportunities available in the next 120 will be staggering.

“Share The Love”


Latest from Cox Automotive

9th December, 2019

Is hydrogen the future of fuel

In his latest blog James Davis, Customer Insight and Strategy Director for Commercial Vehicles, gets out his crystal ball and does a bit of sustainable fuel future-gazing

Read more
28th November, 2019

UK car transactions to top 10 million for fifth year in a row

The UK car market is on track to complete more than 10 million new and used car transactions in 2019 Total 2.65 million new and used car transactions expected in Q1 2020

Read more
21st November, 2019

James Davis - latest blog

In his latest blog James Davis, Customer Strategy and Insight Director for Commercial Vehicles, considers the impact of disruption in our sector and Cox Automotive's strategic view.

Read more
21st November, 2019

Barbara Cox Woman of the Year Award

Cox Automotive is seeking nominations for the Barbara Cox Woman of the Year Award, which will honour an inspirational woman within the automotive industry.

Read more
More articles