Put the pedal to the metal

Frank Massey looks at the practicalities of future transport with an engineer’s eye, and points out some potholes in the road ahead

By Frank Massey | Published:  14 May, 2018

I have spent most of my life repairing things that are broken and the rest of it trying to prevent it happening in the first place. This year, June to be precise, will be my 50th year in the automotive industry; I have witnesses and have embraced incredible advances in technology.
 
This article may appear somewhat negative, perhaps even misinformed and out of touch. Have I lost the plot? Before judging my motives let me explain how I think and react to change. I think I have already proved my ability to embrace technical evolution. Fixing a problem for me should be a well thought out long term positive step forward; Understanding the immediate challenges whilst focusing on the cause and not reacting to the symptoms. I would like to think of myself as a thinking engineer.

Developments
I am referring to current automotive developments, specifically autonomous and battery powered vehicles. We have just witnessed the first death by an automonous vehicle, the litigation should be interesting. Who is responsible? The driver? He was in full autonomous mode! The vehicle manufacturer? How about Microsoft? and we have all just witnessed how software companies respond to problems! Back to the driver then.

If you genuinely believe this is a step forward ask your self this question; would you take your family on holiday with no pilot in the cockpit? After all, aircraft have some of the most comprehensive and competent automonous systems.
Second on my list are battery powered vehicles. Let me present facts that support my position. The problem- pollution of the atmosphere. The cause- hydrocarbon fuelled vehicles. Battery powered vehicles will drastically increase the requirement on electricity generation, with most countries using hydrocarbon fuelled power stations! Limited distance and the uncertainty of charging port availability, notwithstanding the unwelcomed journey delays, is in my opinion
not a sensible answer to flexible mass transport.
 
The UK has marginal spare capacity in power generation, imagine if 25% or more of the UK car parc plugged in at 6pm. The national grid does have strategies for sudden increases in demand. These include bringing old standby stations online and increasing imported supplies. I accept these considerations are partly personal
and emotional. However, look at a more interesting set of problems facing the vehicle manufacturers,
such as lithium reserves and the geo-physical locations.
 
Currently the average energy consumption of battery vehicles is 65kw/hr. This requires 10kg of lithium per battery. Tesla expects to produce 500,000 vehicles by 2020. This would require 5,000,000 kg or 5,000 metric tons, per year, of refined lithium. Discussions are under way for production of reduced performance vehicles requiring less lithium.
Research estimates global reserves of 365 years assuming the current 37,000 metric tons production per year. Current lithium demands are split 30/30% with battery and ceramic production. However, it is also predicted that around 100 mega capacity battery plants, like Tesla will be required to meet demand globally.  Global EV estimates of 100,000,000 vehicles by 2040 would require 800,000 metric tons of lithium per year. Divide this by the estimated 40,000,000 metric tons global reserves leaves a timeline of 18 years.

Demand
Demand is a variable that cannot be accurately predicted. For example, China’s population of 1.3. billion, already has 50% of the vehicle ownership of the USA. With India and other emerging economies coming on-stream, vehicle growth could exceed all predictive estimates.

Where is the electricity going to come from? Greece for example has a EU emission get-out clause as all its energy production comes from vast open cast coal mines.

Recycling cost is around five times  that of new production cost, with around a 20:1 lithium recovery ratio.
The lithium atomic symbol Li is the third lightest solid in the periodic tables. Highly flammable, it is also used as solid fuel rocket boosters and torpedoes. It is also used as an initiator for triggering nuclear weapons. With more down to earth requirements, lithium is used in heat resistant glass, grease, ceramics, and iron steel production. These requirements exclude all other uses of lithium, from your mobile phone battery to those nice kitchen tiles your wife has chosen. So back to my proposition, dealing with the problem and not the symptoms! Batteries are not the answer. I’m no physicist, but I see the hydrogen cell as the only current hope on the horizon for flexible mass transport.

A much-improved public transport infrastructure, a more realistic vehicle operating tax structure will all play a part in vehicle ownership within the developed economies. We cannot expect emerging nations such as China and India, with around two billion people, to follow suit any time soon.

As a keen cyclist from the age of 15, with a mild asthmatic condition I’m as focused as anyone on reducing global emissions. Judging by the way so many motorists still drive their vehicles, the reality shock of what’s coming cannot be far away.


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  • THIS TIME NEXT YEAR? 

    The start and the end of a year enable us to ask where we have been, and where we are going. It’s an arbitrary cut-off, but it does provide some punctuation to the stream-of-consciousness that life in the sector can seem like.  

    2017 saw wave after wave of big issues battering the aftermarket, from ongoing concerns over diesel emissions, to the challenges represented by the connected car. All these issues were with us a year ago, and they are still with us now. Where should we be in 2019 though, and can we expect any progress on these topics?

    Clarity
    Commenting on the prospects for the year, Independent Automotive Aftermarket Federation (IAAF) chief executive Wendy Williamson saw cause for optimism: “After the seismic changes that were proposed for the industry in 2017, the IAAF remains cautiously optimistic for 2018. I for one would like to see us build on the progress we’ve started to make, in order to secure a brighter future for the aftermarket. The general consensus is, while there’s still a long way to go in many aspects, by the end of the year we shall see more clarity. Speaking of optimism, Wendy observed that some cold hard reality could be handy for those looking to see some technologies hit maturity far earlier than is likely: “I still believe that, whilst autonomous cars have received a huge amount of press coverage in 2017, they are still a long way off mass market appeal and I can’t see that changing dramatically in 2018. Whilst the vehicle technology has developed at a rapid rate over the last couple of years, the infrastructure required to support a network of autonomous vehicles is still some distance away.”

    That isn’t to say the future has been forever delayed: “However, all areas of the aftermarket do need to continue to invest for the future. Whilst this is currently evident in traditional vehicles, newer technologies such as hybrids and EVs still tend to be very much in the domain of the franchised network. With last year’s announcement by the government, that ‘pure’ diesel and petrol engine cars will be banned by 2040, the sector needs to keep pushing to ensure that the relevant parts and technical information are available, so that new vehicle technologies can be repaired by the independent aftermarket.

    “FIGIEFA’s call on the European Commission to swiftly implement the ‘interoperable in-vehicle telematics platform,’ following the conclusions of the TRL Report on ‘Access to in-vehicle data and resources’ were fervently applauded by the IAAF. We are hopeful now for swift progress to be made and that 2018 will move us closer to giving the independent aftermarket direct access to in-vehicle data.”

    “I’d also like to see more support for new technology and development, so it can reach the aftermarket more quickly,” said Wendy. “The introduction of hybrids and electric vehicles also presents opportunities as well as challenges for independent workshops to invest in the changing vehicle parc. The technology is already there for them to take advantage, but the progression and success of this shift depends heavily on the infrastructure in place. So while we’re on the subject of clarity, in 2018 I’d like to see a clearer strategy on who would pay for this.”

    Then there’s Brexit: “We need to establish a bit of sense in the UK/Europe relationship going forward, as we continue to fight the aftermarket’s corner on a number of post-Brexit threats affecting the trade.

    “One thing that won’t change, however, and will remain a constant, is IAAF’s continuation of playing a major role in championing the UK automotive aftermarket interests both in Europe and in the UK.”

    Top priority
    Common sense is clearly shared across the sector, as for Garage Equipment Association (GEA) chief executive, Dave Garratt the MOT is top priority: “I would also like to see the UK MOT brought up-to-date over the next year especially when it comes to headlamp beam testing. Today we are testing using old visual/manual headlamp beam setters in the MOT, which are great on halogen headlamps, but suffer when testing HID and LED systems. Vehicle manufacturers have been insisting that their main dealers use video camera based beam setters for many years and these lighting systems are very difficult if not impossible to
    set-up using an aiming screen.”

    On the subject of technology, Dave also said he hoped to see some progress on how we deal with connectivity: “It would be great to get some clarity on exactly how the independent aftermarket is going to remain competitive when dealing with the connected car. During 2017 the Automotive Aftermarket Liaison Group (AALG) lobbied the DfT and asked for their support in keeping an open platform on vehicles so independents can have the same access as a main dealer. With Brexit going-on, it’s difficult to focus the attention of the UK government to our concerns. However, the European Commission seems to be sympathetic in maintaining an open and fair aftermarket and our associations in Europe have gained ground when convincing them of this.

    Dave added: “Let’s hope that 2018 sees clear regulation on the connected car and that the UK adopts the same as Brexit moves closer.”

    Challenging
    “As we look ahead into 2018,” observed Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) chief executive Steve  Nash, “It looks like it’ll be another fairly challenging year for the automotive industry from a sales perspective, although the sales successes of recent years should continue to carry through strongly into the aftersales area of the business.

    Emissions concerns loom large in Steve’s mind: “Despite the well-presented case from the SMMT on behalf of the industry, the government have so far done little to address the ambiguity in their policies surrounding Euro 6 diesel vehicles, including those that will have been subjected to the new and more stringent ‘real world’ emissions tests. Therefore the decline in diesel sales we have witnessed in 2017 is likely to continue unchecked in 2018. To compensate manufacturers will put all their efforts behind their petrol, EV and hybrid offers, with plenty of new EV and hybrid models due to hit the market next year.”

    Europe is less of a concern than ongoing investment in the sector: “Though Brexit’s deal-or-no-deal will continue to dominate the headlines as we move towards the EU deadline, I doubt the motoring sector will see any drastic changes to the way it currently operates as a consequence; certainly not in 2018. With the developments of new technology advancing at record pace, independent businesses across the sector will need to be considering how they can adapt, by investing in new technology and the necessary training that will allow them to safely service vehicles that have automated, electric and hybrid tech.”

    EVs and hybrids
    The real-world practicalities of working on EVs and hybrids is something that everyone needs to think about: “Following a busy period in 2017, the IMI has been campaigning for a Licence to Practise for technicians working on the high-voltage systems of electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as potentially on autonomous systems going forward. This campaign made great progress this year by gaining support from cross-party MPs, as well as government ministers. The IMI will be working alongside government to help shape the possible licencing scheme with the support of the sector. Without regulation and a minimum training standard, there are clear and significant safety risks for technicians who don’t have any form of training or aren’t properly equipped if they are coming into contact with the high voltage systems of electric and hybrid vehicles.”

    The skills shortage is likely to still be with us at the end of 2018. Considering the alternatives out there for young people, you have to wonder why sometimes: “Recruitment has been a well-documented struggle for many employers throughout 2017,” observed Steve. “The IMI published research that showed many young people wanted to avoid university debt, however they felt it was their only option after leaving school since they’d never received any form of effective careers advice to tell them otherwise. It’s essential that 2018 sees employers become proactive in raising the awareness of the excellent career opportunities available to young people. The advances in technology mean the industry has a real and genuine chance to sell itself as a high-tech sector, attracting talented young people that can bring new ideas and skills but who might not previously have considered automotive as a career choice.”

    Ending on a positive note, Terry Gibson, head of member services at the Independent Garage Association (IGA) said: “Despite the doom mongers out there, the IGA is certain that there has never been a better time to own an independent garage. The opportunities for the future are open to those who continue to invest in training, tools and technology. That’s not to say that 2018 won’t be hard. An increasingly complex technical and regulatory landscape means that the new opportunities will be matched by new and evolving challenges.“

    Not all changes to the MOT are bad, as Terry commented: “Changes to the MOT as a result of the EU Roadworthiness Directive 2014/45 which come into force on 20 May next year will bring lower emissions standards which will require an update to the Diesel Smoke Meter (DSM), as well as introducing the ‘categorisation of defects’. These changes are likely to feature in the DVSA’s syllabus for the 2018/19 Annual Training year starting on 1 April providing a very small window for testers to get to grips with new concepts.” Some challenges may seem daunting, but are not insurmountable: “Closely following the MOT changes, the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) come into full force on 25 May 2018 and all businesses will need to ensure that they are compliant. Whilst the new regulations do not fundamentally change the core principles of data protection and privacy, they do add some significant new responsibilities and requirements for anyone that collects, stores and uses customer data as well as new rights for individuals. This is a subject that garages cannot afford to ignore or treat lightly.”

    Then there’s technology: “The increasing proliferation of ‘demand aggregation’ websites – online booking platforms, garage comparison sites and all the other apparently tempting marketing propositions that simply serve to place a third party between a garage and its customers continue to confuse consumers and cost garages money. We must stand behind proper Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) approved consumer codes such as Trust My Garage which allows garage businesses demonstrate their quality and value directly to customers without the need for middle-men. As well as the issues created by the subjects above, the direct relationship between the vehicle manufacturer and the driver of the car created by the connected and extended vehicle is a game changer for the entire motor industry. The IGA will continue to fight for access to the vehicle and its data to ensure that independent garages can continues to provide the quality and service for which they are renowned.”

    Summing  up
    These are all vital topics that have the potential to change the landscape of the industry. Will we still be discussing some or all of these issues in early 2019? Only time will tell, but Aftermarket expects to keep the files on a few of these subjects open for some time to come…


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