Ready or not, technology is propelling us toward the age of driverless vehicles. IHS Automotive predicts there will be nearly 54 million self-driving cars on the roads by 2035. Think this is far-fetched? Not really. Driverless or autonomous cars are already being used in controlled environments such as mining and farming.

And, in fact, connecting vehicles to the outside environment actually has a long history, beginning in 1930 when the first commercial car radio was installed by Galvin Manufacturing Corp., which later became Motorola. The question facing the industry today is not if driverless cars will become a reality, but rather how to overcome the substantial obstacles that lay in the way of widespread adoption.

Read more: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

High-performance computing (HPC) has long helped the automotive sector solve complex business and engineering problems, running the spectrum from initial design to final delivery and more. With the return of growth across the global manufacturing sector following years of a soft market, computer-aided engineering (CAE), supercomputer-driven manufacturing and data-backed innovation are expected to catapult the automotive industry into new ways of thinking about big data, growth and operational efficiency.

Having access to HPC capability is just a start. Understanding and effectively leveraging big data to solve problems across the auto industry goes beyond the basics of building out a new server room and hiring highly talented data scientists. Reaping the benefits of big data insights also means setting up organizational discipline and a viable culture around identifying processes or parts of the business that could benefit from big data insights. 

Road salt killed many cars in the past. Long before the drivetrain was worn out, snow country drivers had gaping rust holes in panels and dangerously rotted frames. Today’s high-tech vehicles don’t suffer the fate of earlier rust-prone vehicles. Double-sided galvanized mild steel and corrosion-resistant alloy panels have significantly reduced the propensity to rust. Moreover, aluminum and carbon fiber have eliminated the threat from road salt, which ultimately will increase longevity even further. But a new threat could undermine these advances. 

Lightweighting – meaning the design of a vehicle that incorporates reduced-weight components to achieve a reduced gross vehicle weight – may increase the disposability of vehicles. We need only look at today’s lower-cost compact passenger cars to see the signs. Expensive replacement headlamps, vulnerable air conditioning components and radiators just a rear-end nosedive away from being damaged and adding to the cost of repair. Vehicles are designed with sweeping headlamps that wrap from the fender to inches away from the bumper edge or passenger side airbag locations that, when deployed, break both the windshield and dashboard and also contribute to total losses. 

Read more: Is vehicle lightweighting creating a disposable car?

In March 2015, Ford unveiled its all-new GT, a high-performance, production-volume sports car, and made a claim that would seem to indicate where our cars and trucks are headed: “Few innovations provide a more wide-ranging performance and efficiency advantage than reducing weight. All factors of a vehicle’s capabilities – acceleration, handling, braking, safety, efficiency – can improve through the use of advanced, lighter materials.” In other words, our cars and trucks are going on a huge diet.

What “advanced, lighter materials” can do all that, according to Ford? Carbon fiber-reinforced plastics.

For years we’ve been hearing of the imminent widespread use of carbon fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP) in our cars and trucks. These high-tech materials are already used in tennis rackets, fishing rods, bicycle frames, prosthetic limbs, bridges, NASA drones, even Boeing Dreamliners – cars are next, right?

Read more: Plastics, Carbon Fiber and the Future of Our Cars and Trucks

President Obama’s recent call for advanced job training to meet the demand for highly skilled trade and technical workers in our country is on the mark. 

When it comes to the skilled trades, the issue isn’t job creation as much as it is the looming shortage of highly skilled trade and technical workers. In fact, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers predicts that as the manufacturing sector rebounds and skilled technical workers from the baby boom generation retire in droves, we will see a shortfall of knowledgeable and experienced tradespeople as early as this year. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in the transportation sector, where America faces a critical shortage of qualified auto and diesel technicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation will need more than 1.2 million automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine service technicians between 2012 and 2022. That equates to an average of more than 37,000 job openings every year. These jobs pay well, offer opportunity for advancement and, in most cases, don’t require a traditional four-year degree. 

Read more: Time To Train

If you work in connected cars you must have been “off the grid” in first quarter 2015 to miss the surge of mainstream press coverage on connected car cyber-security, or hacking. 

General consumer awareness of the topic spiked on Feb. 8 when “60 Minutes” ran a story on connected car hacking with reporter Lesley Stahl driving a vehicle that was hacked by a crack team from the U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  One can imagine the fear and anxiety that was inflicted on the program’s 12.2 million average viewers when the hackers began controlling multiple car functions and messing with the brakes and accelerator — all from outside the vehicle. Luckily, traffic cones were the only casualties, but the safety implications were crystal clear.

Read more: Connected Car Cyber-Security: Media Hysteria or Something to Worry About?

The finance and insurance office (F&I) is one of the most important profit centers for any new car dealership. Finance-related sales, such as aftermarket products and service contracts, can account for up to one-third of a dealer’s gross profits in a given year, making it vital for success. This back-end profit stream has become even more crucial in recent years now that new car pricing is readily available on the Internet.

However, these profits keep getting threatened by outside forces bearing down on dealerships. They took a big hit during the recession when people were reticent to invest in new cars, and if they did buy, they steered clear of any add-ons. F&I departments are also facing increased competition from automakers that are building in products that overlap with their offerings.   

Read more: F&I Optimism High Despite Threats

GM Investing in Facilities

General Motors Co. announced June 22 that it would add 300 jobs and invest $245 million in its Orion Assembly Plant to launch a new, unnamed vehicle. The Orion Assembly Plant is located in Orion Township, a suburb of Detroit. Additionally, GM will spend $1 billion to overhaul its technical center in Warren, Mich., also near Detroit. The three-year project will include new design studios and an information technology building. The technical center expansion is expected to create 2,600 jobs in product engineering, information technology and design. Both projects are part of $5.4 billion worth of improvements GM is planning for its U.S. manufacturing plants. 

Read more: Industry News

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