Human-Free Roads To Bring AV Nearer, Says Kia Exec

Autonomous-only roads could accelerate the adoption of the technology and modern-era built cities are likely to be leading this strategy.

That is the opinion of Artur Martins vice-president marketing and product planning Kia Motors Europe. Speaking exclusively to TU-Automotive, Martins said driver-free zones would be required to help the technology which faces challenges both from infrastructure and consumer car-ownership behavior.

We met him on the Kia stand at the Paris Motor Show 2018 where the Korean carmaker was launching its first BEV in the shape of the e-Niro compact CUV. Martins said: “With autonomous driving, we are still a long way from getting there, not because of technology as such because that already exists, but because we need the right infrastructure both in the cities and the open roads. You also need the cars to be able to communicate with each other as well as with the city infrastructure like traffic lights.

“There is a big discussion right now about when this will be massively spread through the market and I, personally, am a little pessimistic about it as I feel it will take more time than the change from the horse to the car. That’s because, for one, many people in Europe only change their cars every 10 or 15 years so I think it will be very difficult to mix them with autonomous cars.”

Martins said city mandates banning non-autonomous vehicles from specific roads, or even areas, would be a way of getting the technology on the streets sooner rather than later. He said: “It will start when specific cities designate areas where autonomous cars can drive only with other autonomous cars. For me this would be the starting point in cities such as Singapore or Dubai where they can be fully connected to the internet. Where the infrastructure of the city is very old, it will take a very long time to create the technology to allow for autonomous driving.”

On technology of the here-and-now, Martins said consumer use of connected car technology is growing albeit from a fairly low current level. He explained: “While there is now a lot of technology in cars that is being used by consumers, I think we are still at the very basic stage of that reflecting what consumers demand. It has to be easy to connect their phone and have access to their contacts so the car is just an extension of their smartphones.”

Some of the reasons for this lay in the auto industry’s own limitations, said Martins. He said: “In this regard the industry has lagged behind mobile device technology mainly because of the longer cycles involved in building a car as against a smart device. This kind of technology can be changed every year, sometimes twice a year, whereas the turnaround lifecycle of a car will be two-and-a-half or three years. This creates problems for our industry because we cannot plug-and-play as easily with our technology as they can change with smart devices.

“Yet, I think now there are technologies such as telematics that are starting to become very relevant for businesses and some consumers. There remains a certain lack of awareness among consumers of what is out there and I think we are still trying to communicate to consumers what the relevance is of the technology to them. Simply, if it is not relevant to them, they will not use it.”

On this point he said it is vital that carmakers find connected services that consumers find relevant to their everyday lives, Martins said. “We try to understand what services the consumer is missing right now. Most people are searching for convenience. Currently, people live very busy lives, they don’t want to waste time stuck in traffic so how to find parking easily is desirable and here telematics can be used and that’s why we are working with TomTom on parking options on the streets or in parking lots. Here people can directly access free parking areas and, with EV owners, they can find charging stations that are free and can remotely book and pay for a space at a time they will need it. In this way we are looking at what people want and to try to make it easy for them to use their cars.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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