FU­TURE TRANSPORT will be very dif­fer­ent, like this AT Black Knight Trans­former, but it will also cre­ate many new jobs.

AL­WYN VILJOEN tells work­ers in car fac­to­ries and on sales floors how cur­rent trends in transport will af­fect their jobs

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE -

WITH fu­ture transport sys­tems pre­dicted to see far fewer ve­hi­cles shar­ing a lot more rides, work­ers in South Africa’s car trade are ask­ing how this will af­fect their jobs.

Last year, the auto trade counted 115 000 high-skill em­ploy­ees at fac­tory level and 496 000 em­ployed in re­tail, dis­tri­bu­tion, ser­vic­ing and re­pair sec­tors.

For all these peo­ple, the hard re­al­ity is that au­ton­o­mous cars will see fac­to­ries and car sales scale down dras­ti­cally. But the mil­len­ni­als will still need cars, and their unique de­mands and new con­struc­tion tech­niques, in­clud­ing large 3D print­ers, will also open the door for work­ers to start bou­tique car fac­to­ries.

Bou­tique fac­to­ries

Builder of the McLaren su­per car, the Yamaha city car and lately the new Lo­tus, Dur­ban-born Gor­don Mur­ray is al­ready us­ing his iStream process to en­able ar­ti­sans to make cars cheaply.

Ex­plain­ing his rev­o­lu­tion­ary iStream process, Mur­ray said car fac­to­ries fun­da­men­tally still stamp panels from a sheet of steel, weld them to­gether, paint them and “put the bits on and that’s your mo­tor car”, de­spite a lot more au­to­ma­tion and ef­fi­cien­cies be­ing avail­able,

Mur­ray’s mod­u­lar iStream is closer to the process by which most rac­ing cars are built, which is to start with a type of roll cage, fit a drive train and then bolt on the seats and panels.

“So this is very dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy. It’s tear­ing up the rule book and start­ing again,” said Mur­ray.

In Wash­ing­ton, Lo­cal Mo­tors CEO John Rogers has not even heard of the book. Rogers wants to equip hun­dreds of mi­cro-fac­to­ries to 3D-print self-driv­ing minibuses.

In Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, where taxi driv­ers and con­duc­tors re­cently set fire to a pi­lot smart­card sys­tem, Rogers’ mi­cro-fac­to­ries may have to be fire-proof. Such re­sis­tance from driv­ers will, how­ever, not stop transport changes from hap­pen­ing. The big­gest of these changes prom­ises to be un­used park­ing bays.

Driv­ing a hobby for the rich

Chris Dixon, a part­ner at Sil­i­con Val­ley in­vest­ment firm An­dreessen Horowitz, told In­sider Tech that park­ing bays use up to a quar­ter of a city’s real es­tate, and could be used for parks and pave­ment cafes.

As for driv­ing a car, Dixon thinks this will be­come a hobby for the rich, adding that by the next decade, most cars on the road will be au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles shar­ing knowl­edge.

“An au­ton­o­mous car drops you off and picks up the next per­son, as op­posed to the model now, which is just so waste­ful, to have the car sit­ting in a park­ing lot 90% of the time.”

Tesla founder Elon Musk agrees that a fleet of self-driv­ing cars shar­ing rides is the fu­ture, but he thinks this fu­ture is as close as in the next five years.

Scooter­ing about

Musk is bank­ing on peo­ple still want­ing cars and Dixon is in­vested in drones that carry a per­son, but Ho­race Luke, co-founder and CEO at Go­goro scoot­ers, is gam­bling that mil­len­ni­als will want in­de­pen­dent transport in mega cities with­out the traf­fic or ex­haust fumes, i.e elec­tric scoot­ers. Go­goro’s for­mer cell­phone en­gi­neers looked at mak­ing a new model of transport, start­ing with the way peo­ple use, con­sume and ex­pe­ri­ence en­ergy.

Luke said the transport in­dus­try has not kept up with the pace of ur­ban life and is still stuck in the nineties.

Go­goro, in­stead, of­fers transport op­tions that move fast, with seam­less con­nec­tions and sus­tain­able choices.

The com­pany con­se­quently has a business model that sells bat­tery banks where the Go­goro scoot­ers can ex­change flat bat­ter­ies for charged ones in sec­onds.

Sound ad­vice for gov’t

South Africa’s com­muters have so far re­sisted the quick but frag­ile charms of scoot­ers in cities, but fuel-sta­tion own­ers and other en­trepreneurs with an eye on the fu­ture would do worse than reg­is­ter in­ter­est on the Go­goro site.

Speak­ing at the third Op­por­tu­ni­ties in the Fuel Re­tail Sec­tor sem­i­nar, hosted in Pi­eter­mar­itzburg by the Depart­ment of En­ergy last week, Sello Madima told some 70 peo­ple that the diesel and petrol sold at sta­tions will be re­placed by al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources such as so­lar power and bio­fu­els.

Too big to change?

It is an open ques­tion whether the South African Depart­ment and Min­istry of Trade and In­dus­try, which has con­trib­uted over R28 bil­lion to ve­hi­cle and com­po­nent man­u­fac­tur­ers over the past four years, is aware of these pre­dic­tions.

It may very well feel that it doesn’t need to care, for the bil­lions the DTI has pumped into the sec­tor has showed very good re­turns, with the broader au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try’s con­tri­bu­tion to South Africa’s GDP at 7,5% in 2014, while ve­hi­cle and com­po­nent pro­duc­tion ac­counted for 33,5% of SA man­u­fac­tur­ing out­put.

In­vest­ments to es­tab­lish fac­to­ries were also made by FAW, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and most re­cently Toy­ota, which paid R6,1 bil­lion for a Hilux/For­tuner line at its plant in Prospec­ton.

The think­ing in these cir­cles is that they are too big to change.

But un­less the big car brands man­age to re­shape their business mod­els to sell transport as a ser­vice, in­stead of cars as ego ex­ten­ders, Dixon pre­dicts they will be re­placed by the likes of China’s Pro­tean, which makes hub mo­tors that put the power of a V6 en­gine in­side an 18-inch hub.

It boils down to soft­ware

The first trick car com­pa­nies will have to master to sur­vive is to make new mod­els fast. Dixon quoted Net­scape founder Marc An­dreessen, who likes to say that right now the phone is an ac­ces­sory to the car, but pretty soon the car is go­ing to be an ac­ces­sory to the phone.

“Phones are up­dated ev­ery six months to a year. Cars are up­dated ev­ery five years. Even if car com­pa­nies got re­ally good at soft­ware, it would be hard for them re­ally to be­have like soft­ware com­pa­nies. Un­less they re­ally lean into be­com­ing soft­ware com­pa­nies and ride-hail­ing net­works much more ag­gres­sively, it’s hard for me to see how the ex­ist­ing car com­pa­nies are more than peo­ple who man­u­fac­ture power trains and chas­sis. Ev­ery­thing else just seems like a soft­ware prob­lem,” said Dixon.


For the daily com­mute, a mo­torised uni­cy­cle built us­ing a hub mo­tor and self-bal­anc­ing elec­tron­ics from a gut­ted Seg­way.


For the last stretch home, Air Wheel’s self-bal­anc­ing elec­tric uni­cy­cle.


Will South Africa’s taxi driv­ers adapt to ro­bot taxis, like these self-link­ing city trains from Next?

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