Humans, not bots, will drive tech change says Nissan

While it is clear that the rapidly evolving technologies in the automotive world will have a huge impact on the shape of its future, there is another vital element – people.

This was the view of Nissan Europe’s chairman, Paul Willcox, during a round table chat TU-Automotive was invited to attend at this year’s Geneva Motor Show. Willcox was adamant that the new tech-savvy talent that the industry must attract will have as much affect on the shape of the industry in years to come. The need to attract this new type of automotive worker is becoming urgent as the industry faces one of the biggest upheavals in its history.

Willcox said: “Our industry faces massive, massive challenges and what is clear in the next 10 years will be unprecedented because we will see more change than we have seen in the last 50 and possibly since the start of our industry. In certain respects, our industry today is still much as it was at the beginning: we engineer a car; we use a conventional powertrain; we put it through a dealer network; they sell the car to a customer who detains it for a period; then it comes back as a resale vehicle. That business has been run for more than 100 years.”

He said the industry faces three major changes that will place huge pressure on businesses in terms of agility and investment. Willcox explained: “The first one is electrification – if you think about managing the investments for a normal internal combustion engine and putting on top the challenge for electrification, it requires new technology and new talent. It puts pressure on not only in terms of investment but also in terms of talent. I think the biggest drive is how to do that because businesses are built on people so how do we get the right talent to that?”

He pointed to Nissan’s latest vehicle to grid initiative in Denmark where owners of its LEAF and e-NV200 electric vehicles can earn revenues from unused energy being ‘sold’ back into the national grid. Willcox said: “There will be free access to charging for customers who sign up to this partnership in Denmark and we plan to look into how we can extend this into other areas in Europe and that’s quite exciting.

“For electrical vehicles to be credible you have to look beyond the car and into integration. Of course, one of the biggest barriers to taking on electric vehicles is infrastructure and here we have invested heavily. We had our own bespoke technology to start with and now we have more than 5,700 quick chargers across Europe and we want to increase that by another 1,000 in the next 18 months in collaboration with national regional governments.”

ADAS moving into autonomous driving is another pillar of challenge and opportunity but one that will rely as much on the new kind of people the industry must attract as the investment needed to make it happen. Willcox said: “Second is the drive to bring autonomous technology to the customer in an accessible way because everyone in the show will talk about their autonomous vehicle but making it accessible is the challenge. If we are not careful and manage our investments in the right way, things will get difficult. Obviously, we have to make big investments in those technologies but it’s also investing in new talent because the engineering we need for that technology is completely different from the engineering talent we’ve had in the past.”

Willcox concluded that the ‘glue’ holding the technologies together will be the future car’s role in the IoT. He said: “The final point is the connected car and our belief is these three components will come together to transform mobility. So we need to have scale in our business to be able to make these investments in our business and I think we are well placed in this [with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance]. You’ve heard in the news that we are the biggest volume manufacturer as a business but the biggest benefit to that is scale to handle the massive investments we need to make on those three pillars of change.”


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