October 2020

September was another big month for electric vehicles and the electric vehicle industry.

Towards the end of the month, Tesla held its Battery Day and announced a raft of innovations that will, the company claims, lead to the production and sale of a $US25,000 car.

Tesla aims to do this through a new battery cell design, through the materials used in future battery cells, and through efficiencies in the production and construction processes. This includes the idea of using the battery pack as a structural feature of the car. Clever stuff.

These innovations together will, the company says, deliver an impressive 56 per cent reduction in the per-kilowatt-hour cost and up to a 54 per cent increase in range for the vehicles. Naturally, all of this will also bring down the cost of any vehicle.

The $25,000 car may take a little while to materialise but the company’s enigmatic boss, Elon Musk, seems confident that Tesla will deliver, saying that the company will start seeing the benefits of the moves in 18 months to three years.

Some people may scoff at that – ambitious targets are familiar talking points when discussing Tesla – but there’s no denying that the company does sell cars that are almost universally hailed as the best EVs on the market and they appear to be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. It is probably not wise to say they won’t be able to deliver on this.

Anyway, it is, I think, a little unfair to talk about Tesla in the way we might talk about other, established, car manufacturers. Tesla is, in many ways, a technology company, pushing boundaries across all manner of areas – from computing to software, from connectivity to Artificial Intelligence – as well as batteries, engineering, manufacturing and logistics. While I don’t wish to appear as a Tesla ‘fangirl’, it is very difficult not to be impressed with the company’s set-up, ambition, and drive. With reportedly more than one million vehicles sold; the Model 3 being the world’s best-selling EV with more than 500,000 sales; and with announcements such as those made at Battery Day showing the massive effort being put in to always evolve and improve, it’s difficult to see the company’s lead in the EV space being eroded any time soon.

Tesla and the entire EV industry also got a boost in September when the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, announced that the state would phase out petrol-powered cars by 2035 by which time all new cars being sold there must be zero-emission vehicles.

With a population of nearly 40 million, California is the most populous state in the U.S., and its $3 trillion economy is so enormous that if it were an independent nation it would have the 5th biggest economy in the world. To put it mildly, California has a lot of power and Governor Newsom’s decision will surely spur manufacturers to get a shift-on in developing EVs. Add to this the reports that the UK plans to bring forward its ban on the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030, and the pressure is certainly being dialled up.

Away from EVs and heading into the workshop environment and we find some exciting new technology being rolled out by Mercedes-Benz in the US.

Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) announced in September that its collaboration with Microsoft has led to the first mixed reality automotive maintenance system, called Mercedes-Benz Virtual Remote Support. Powered by HoloLens 2 and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, the system allows onsite dealership technicians to work with off-site Mercedes-Benz specialists while sharing real-time visuals and audio. The remote specialists can provide guidance to the technician on the repair or maintenance and never have to leave the office.

The system offers an immersive experience where both technician and specialist can view 3D images and holograms, see where changes need to be made, add documents, insert arrows, circles and more, all to highlight areas on which to focus. MBUSA says the Virtual Remote Support was recently rolled out to all 383 dealerships across the U.S. and has been received well.

This is the sort of innovation that awaits the wider automotive industry: taking established technologies – augmented reality, 3D imagery, fast connectivity and communication – as well as new ones, and creating a service and experience that can improve productivity, efficiency and customer service. One can imagine that at some point in the near future, such technology may be used by independent workshops to get in touch with independent specialists in much the same way.

Why not? Surely these are the types of innovations that any business owner, large or small, should be looking at as the automotive industry continues to evolve. They might not use them, the tech might not be suitable, but if they don’t even look, then massive opportunities may be missed.

As American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. wrote: ‘Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.’

8 October 2020

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