We are in 2030 and your electric VW has taken on the annoying habit of pulling to the right. A few years ago, when your last gas-powered car started doing something similar, a local mechanic in overalls spent half an hour wrestling underneath with a torque wrench and a few whispered curses. Today you log into the car’s control system from your tablet at the breakfast table and talk through an online portal to a VW technician in Hyderabad. Indeed, it is a software problem. A patch is sent over the Internet and the repair is done.
As a Financial Times series pointed out this week, demand for electric vehicles is increasing as the world accelerates toward epoch industrial change. Ever since Henry Ford installed the first mobile assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile in 1913, the internal combustion engine car has been a driver of industrialization and globalization. Today, almost everything modern economies produce ends up in cars in one form or another: copper for the wiring, rubber for the tires, steel for the frame, and silicon chips for the Computerized “brain”.
All of this will not change. Yet a striking feature of automotive reengineering is the reduction in moving parts, from around 2,000 in a gasoline engine to around 20 in an EV powertrain. A multitude of automotive components familiar for nearly a century will disappear. Some new ones will replace them, like the battery and charging systems, including the brakes that partially recharge the battery. But the implications will be profound.
One area strongly affected will be the components industry. The Mittelstand in Germany, where hundreds of manufacturers have specialized for decades in sometimes unique parts for internal combustion engines, faces a particular challenge. Some will find new niches in the manufacture of components for electric transmissions and other parts of electric vehicles. After all, if automakers are less able to differentiate themselves by designing more powerful engines, especially as vehicles become self-sufficient, they will have to compete by making their cars more attractive. It can encompass everything from seating design to entertainment systems.
Some automakers are already working with component manufacturers on the transition, downsizing their major suppliers and helping others find new product areas. But the changing technology and composition of automobiles will open up opportunities for innovative companies in emerging markets, just as Chinese company BYD has leveraged its success in developing battery technology to become a major producer. full-fledged electric automobiles.
Garages, mechanics and service personnel are also in the sights of the change. Fewer moving parts should reduce the need for repairs and replacement. As cars look more like computers with wheels, repairs will likely become an exclusive business run by manufacturers. The need for software engineers will increase. Many are likely to be in remote locations, giving new impetus to the world of work from anywhere in “virtual” globalization.
New opportunities will open up for local workers in the installation and maintenance of charging stations, and for garages and mechanics the change will be gradual – gasoline and diesel cars will be present until the 2030s – but will require careful handling.
Governments can help by trying to move forward and expand training. As governments such as Britain’s Conservatives pledge to invest in a better-skilled, higher-paying economy, they must anticipate how the Green Revolution will reshape technology and industry. It is vital to prepare workers for this new world, and not just the current one.