This time last year, the fleet world was abuzz with talks about how new mobility solutions were poised to change the way people and goods travel from point A to B. Now, overcoming challenges caused by COVID-19, namely keeping drivers safe, has been the top concern of many fleet professionals.
As we adjust to our new reality, it’s a prime time to examine what shape the future of fleet might take in regard to ACES technology: autonomy, connected, electric and shared.
Last year, while automakers began to downplay timeline expectations of autonomous vehicles, OEMs across the world still invested billions in advancing the technology. The pandemic may curtail the financial investment in autonomous technology as some automakers may seek to divert funds to deal with present or future cash flow concerns due to disruptions in production and sales of their current models.
For example, in mid-July Automotive News Europe reported that various indicators showed OEMs refocusing on level three autonomous technology, which provides temporarily automated controls instead of the more advanced level four and five solutions. Additionally, Ford suspended commercial deployment of its vehicles for a year and Uber’s autonomous division underwent a 3,500-person layoff.
However, this doesn’t mean fully autonomous vehicles aren’t coming as the technology is still of interest to many. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently stated the company is near completion of a level five solution. He even forecasted completing basic functionality by the end of the year. And many automakers are using advances in the technology to outfit Advanced Driver Assistance Systems in their upcoming models.
In some areas, the pandemic has increased the reliance on autonomous vehicles. In China, autonomous vehicles assisted the frontline effort by sanitizing, transporting and cleaning. As always with autonomous vehicles, time is needed to both advance the technology and see how the environment shapes up.
The pandemic is fueling the need for connected vehicle technology and the regulatory organization needed to support it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and some members of Congress are showing support for connected and automated technology to aid in pandemic relief.
Previously, debate over vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications were ongoing in the U.S. Now, with the greater reliance on internet access there’s an increased focus in coming to a resolution on the preferred technology.
It’s also believed that the pandemic may have changed consumer impressions of tracking technologies as the need for contact tracing grows. Organizations looking to better manage their spend are leaning on telematics in this new pandemic era. They’re finding that the data derived from plug-in devices and direct OEM connected tools is helping to reduce a variety of costs including maintenance, insurance and fuel.
Automakers have gone all in on electric vehicles. About 30 new electric vehicle (EV) models were scheduled for a 2020 release. Overall U.S. vehicle sales are seeing a negative impact due to the pandemic, yet the EV segment may not be impacted much if sales flatten out at 2019 figures. Globally, EV sales are expected to decline.
However, EVs are still gaining in popularity as the International Energy Agency forecasted the EV on-the-road count to reach 10 million this year—a large jump from the 7.2 million in the previous year.
Few EV programs were discontinued, though some launches may be delayed due to the temporary halts in production.
As organizations everywhere are rethinking operations, for many it’s time to pilot small scale EV projects to understand your fleet’s electrification needs better.
The pandemic is resulting in increased interest in vehicle ownership due to its limited contact with people. This may wane interest in fleets opting for full mobility plans for their drivers. In fact, the CDC released guidance to employers stating private vehicles were safer than public transportation.
Decreased business travel, when people don’t have access to their own vehicles and are more likely to use a shared option, has impacted the market, too. Many believe, Uber and Lyft have responded appropriately to the pandemic by recommending less travel and pausing their shared features. This has likely helped keep consumer sentiment high. Yet the prevalence of the pandemic will likely continue to harbor feelings of uncertainty in this travel method.
Individual micro-mobility may gain steam with scooters and e-bikes. This open-air transportation option may be safer than a closed-off, public vehicle setup.
As always, lean on your fleet management provider for guidance on the future of mobility within your fleet.
How has your impression of mobility changed since the pandemic? Feel to email me at email@example.com.