The pandemic is re-shaping the auto industry as consumers re-think their vehicle requirements at the same time it puts a spotlight on the need for different approaches to infrastructure, public transportation and fleet management, according to a panel of experts organized by Automotive News.
John Simlett, associate partner with the British research firm EY, said one of most notable changes is that working from home has changed commuting patterns. Even in Sweden, which did not employ a lock down early on to fight the pandemic, commuting dropped by 70%, a recent survey by his firm found. “It’s legitimized working at home,” he said.
Sales of small delivery vans have increased during the pandemic and the trend is expected to continue, going forward as shopping patterns change. “Light commercial vehicle sales have been quite high. This is one of the things that people are going to hang on to,” he added.
Use of public transport is down dramatically, he added. Personal transport has fallen by 50% as people stay closer to home and even use of micro-transport such as shared scooters and bikes is down 50%, of though there are signs it is beginning to recover and sales of electric bikes are now expected to increase in 2021, he noted.
“We have seen micro-mobility coming back more strongly than public transport,” Simlett observed.
A new group of younger buyers are entering the market, he added. Many of them used public transit but are now searching out used cars or even new forms of ownership, he said. But the survey by his firm also found they are more likely to be interested in an electric vehicle, a trend mirrored by the rising sales of EVs in Europe, Simlett said.
Sheryl Connelly, manager Global Consumer Trends and Futuring at the Ford Motor Co., said surveys for Ford’s new ‘Futures” report found that more than 60% said they were reluctant to use public transportation. In addition, 58% said they are not comfortable an airplane, she said.
But Ford’s surveys also found, even though people are working from home, 17% indicated they use their vehicles for work and 26% said it is a place to relax during the pandemic. Many respondents noted that some of their best conversations take place in a car, according to Ford’s Futures study, which is now in its ninth year, Connelly said.
“We are going to still be talking about how we really using our automobile a lot more,” she predicted. “A year from now, we’re going to still be talking about how we are really using our automobiles a lot more.”
Brian Goldstine, president, Mobility Solutions and Fleet Management, Bridgestone Americas, said the pandemic has made everyone in business much more focused on costs and part of the solution for fleet managers is making sure they have the data needed to keep tabs on vehicles.
“Measurement is a very important part of total cost of ownership, assets,” Goldstine said, adding that labor shortages or employee turnover add to the stress of fleet managers and require more information. Predictive types of service analytics also will be critical when autonomous vehicles.
“Tires have to be maintained properly. Technology and advanced analytics can be used to predict when tires need service,” he noted. “In an autonomous world the last thing you want is a breakdown with no one driving. So, you must have an intelligent tire.”
Michelle Avary, head of Automotive and Autonomous Mobility, The World Economic Forum, said during the panel that no one has totaled up all the costs of the pandemic yet. “We need to shine a light on the inequality created by the pandemic,” which has done substantial damage to public transit, she said, making it much more difficult for many underserved communities to get to work.
Regulators will have to make sure others transit needs are met. “California needs make sure the autonomous vehicles of the future can handle wheelchairs,” she noted.
“I think we’re at a point where we recognize electrification and de-carbonizing is essential,” she said, but communities need a better understanding of how to make charging electric cars easier. “We’re not going to be able to address climate change unless we can move a lot of people on public transit.”