The rise of the 5G road and what it means for automotive brands

This article was first published on Automotive World

By Joseph McElligott, Brand Strategist, FITCH

“Autonomous vehicles are just around the corner” — how often do we hear that? The reality is that it’s already here: today the tech residing in your run-of-the-mill premium car is more than capable of reaching a ‘level 3’ autonomy, including manoeuvres, acceleration and deceleration. But to bring cars to ‘level 4’ autonomy, which is what many consider to be truly ‘driverless’, people often forget that it will take more than a car upgrade. A truly autonomous world will rely just as much on the tarmac below, as the car above.

The destination of the 5G road

Soon, the 5G road will enable greater reliability, communality, and transparency — transforming the way both ourselves and our cars interact with each other. The rollout of 5G will offer vehicles enough confidence that connections won’t drop, and latency won’t be an issue as they communicate with each other.

The car will be able to speak to the cars in front, behind and to the side of it in real time with assured connections. The road will be able to speak to the blocked junction one mile ahead, and the service station ten miles from the broken-down car will know about the problem well before the driver has had to call for assistance. 5G will enhance communication networks, creating a safer and more functional and transparent transportation.

Drivers become users

As we trust grows between us and autonomous vehicles (bolstered from the developing reliance and trust in 5G), we will see a dramatic shift in how people use cars. Driving and drivers will become obsolete, creating a new industry around mobility as a ‘service’.

Imagine you head onto a 5G stretch of motorway. Today, you’d be faced with a lengthy 2-hour monotonous journey in front of you. No longer. Your car swiftly sends you a push notification that you are on a 5G road and autonomous driving can be enabled. Now, you have 2 hours of free time, in a relaxing, quiet and safe environment. What do you do? Watch a film? Do some work? The car is now your oyster.

But what does this mean for car brands? Most notably, the standardised car layout (2 in the front, 3 squished in the back) will be disrupted. Cars will be designed around lifestyles and experiences, rather than A to B transportation methods. Modular designs could see interiors change from an entertainment hub to a zen space for relaxation with a simple flick of a switch. In short, cars will become hyper relevant to people’s needs. Just take a look of the models and features announced at CES 2019 to see how this journey experience is evolving — 5G roads and intelligent infrastructure will help bring these innovations to life.

Identifying opportunities for automotive brands

It follows then, that if cars are designed around the experience within them, then a single use ‘car experience’ might seem redundant. Instead, rental companies are actually taking advantage of these changing demands and shifting their business models to meet them: Lyft and Waymo are looking into ways they can provide purpose-specific autonomous cars from a fleet, rather than simply offering riders generic, less specialised versions to rent. It will only be a matter of time before they shape the business model further to thrive under the scale and opportunity 5G roads will offer.

Both car brands and the manufacturers of vehicle equipment (OEMs) will be wise to understand that customers won’t want to own a single model in the future. Rather, customers will choose from a variety of models and services to suit their specific need at that time. The subscription model is being trialled by several players; Mercedes-Benz ‘Collection’, BMW ‘Access’ and Porsche ‘Passport’ all offer customers the opportunity to change their car weekly. However, these subscriptions must now start taking into consideration not only the model of the car they offer, but the services inside each car and how the implementation of 5G roads can optimise this offering beyond initial expectations.

We don’t have 5G roads yet — but brands should be ready to embrace the unprecedented benefits it can bring to the future automotive experience.

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FITCH is a global design consultancy. Designing the Future. Online, offline and in person.