Cars evolving into apps with comfortable seats

The touch screen of the Renault Clio. Photo / Ted Baghurst.
The touch screen of the Renault Clio. Photo / Ted Baghurst.

Once upon a time everything in the car sector was straightforward. Products were defined by design, size, comfort level, safety, price and, naturally, horsepower, with brand-new models emerging roughly once every six years.

But, according to car expert Stefan Bratzel: "These days customer wishes have changed dramatically."

Tyre and component giant Continental provides a good illustration of this. The company is developing ultra-detailed maps that could be used by autonomous cars driven on autopilot.

"The digitalisation of our entire lives continues apace," says Conti boss Elmar Degenhart.

Search engine giant Google recently snapped up the navigation app Waze, which lets users inform each other about traffic conditions. It has been experimenting with driverless cars. Two huge, profitable industrial sectors are nudging up to each other. Vehicle technology fields are morphing into virtual topics.

Conti is working with network systems supplier Cisco and IBM, and Degenhart believes that the car will become a part of the internet.

Bratzel sees things the same way: "All this reflects the way that customers are increasingly moving in another world."

The car is becoming a rolling app platform. A new world of technological innovation is poised to find its way into cars. Owners already expect built-in gadgets, such as hands-free car kits, that will automatically consult the phone book.

Cars are ideally supposed to know where to go for the cheapest fuel and to warn drivers of traffic snarls. When a service is due, the car can warn its owner, and even make an appointment at the dealer.

Some experts believe driverless cars on motorways are only a decade away. "We are also convinced that road traffic accidents will be something talked about in museums," Degenhart says.

The industry knows the changes are coming fast. VW chief Martin Winterkorn recently said: "Over the next few years our sector faces one of the biggest upheavals since the invention of the motor car."

People's expectations of mobility are changing. Constant updating will probably be the motto of the future - and it will keep the motor trade alive.

Bratzel expects the relationship between manufacturers and suppliers to change:

"I believe that what we are currently seeing is the balance of power moving towards the suppliers."

-AAP

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