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An interview with Paul McSweeney on the future of the automotive industry

Paul McSweeney 08 August 2019

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with our very own Paul McSweeney to pick his brains on the future of the automotive industry. Paul is our Automotive Account Director and undeniable fan of all things four-wheeled.

So what does Paul think of the continuing rise of electric vehicles? What will happen to traditional petrol and diesel models? And is ride-sharing going to change how we buy cars?

 

Thanks for joining me, Paul. Let’s jump right in: as an expert in the industry, why is now an exciting time for the automotive industry?

We’re at a turning point in the industry, both in terms of propulsion technology and the retail model. With the advent of the electric vehicle and how many manufacturers are challenging the retail model, it’s exciting to see where it’ll be in five or ten years when these things have settled down and the trends have established themselves.

I guess what’s most exciting for me personally is the powertrain change. EVs are gaining more traction – if you’ll pardon the pun – as the range increases and the cars themselves become more and more exciting with each launch. 

 

On the topic of electric vehicles, do you think there will be mass adoption of the technology?

Well, my kids are car fans like me, and they take an interest in every single car that drives past. And to them, electric vehicles are just a part of the overall landscape. That might not be the case for my generation, but for the younger ones, they aren’t a trend – they just are. So yes, I think we will see mass adoption.

New legislation and general demand will drive sales. As batteries become denser, lighter, and more powerful, the packaging challenge of batteries will decrease and will drive more and more new concepts and more and more interest. It will happen from a customer and legislation perspective, I’m sure.

 

Then what about traditional petrol and diesel cars? Do you think they will go the way of the dinosaur?

Ultimately they will. Fossil fuels are a finite resource after all, so they will run out and we will have to find other ways. But I think we’ll see them hang around for a long time yet. And really, we don’t know how the industry will innovate. So it will happen, but I think it will be a slower process than some predict.

For the car enthusiast, the feel, the noise, the feedback, the engagement of an internal combustion engine is something that EV manufacturers aren’t able to replicate, even if the likes of Lotus, Rimac, and Pininfarina are indeed developing some very exciting looking EV hypercars. It might be, in the end, that vehicles with an internal combustion engine become a small – but stable – part of the market for customers wanting that particular feel on a track day or something like that. EVs would take 95-98% of the market for people who simply want to get from A to B.

 

How will this affect traditional manufacturers and their classic lineup?

They’re all pretty much developing their own EV strategy, which is great to see. Every single manufacturer has released some sort of communication about how and when they’ll be fully electrified, or at least partially so. I guess the thing the mainstream manufacturers need to look out for are the new “startup” manufacturers, like Rivian. They will make very convincing, properly funded and developed vehicles that will have a credible, world-class reputation straight off the bat.

Companies like Dyson haven’t completely shown their hand yet but you can bet your boots that will be the same. Both organisations have recruited the right people who wouldn’t be working with them if they weren’t doing something game-changing.

So the mainstream manufacturers have their strategies but EV design and manufacture are allowing startups to join the game more easily than if they had to sort out an internal combustion engine, for example, by themselves.

 

These new companies, how do you think they’ll fit into the market?

They’ll probably start off with a fairly low-ish volume in comparison to the biggest players, but I think customers tend to be less brand loyal these days. Media plays its part in that it’s much easier to establish a reputation for reliability – it can happen much quicker today. So if they are strong competitors – and I think they will be – they’ll be adopted reasonably quickly.

 

So Tesla might be one of the most well-known examples so far.

Yeah, exactly. A few years ago it was a small name but now they’re mainstream in their own right.

 

One technology that Tesla and others are working on is self-driving cars. Do you think they will change the landscape?

I’m not sure about self-driving cars. I think full, level five autonomy is a long way away. We can’t be mixing fully autonomous cars with self-driven vehicles – I don’t know how that would even work. It’s good that the world is having this debate, though. Traffic is getting worse and worse, there are more and more cars, so something has to give.

 

How about ride-sharing apps? Or services where you basically rent a car? Will they have an impact?

Yeah, those I do think will have an effect. I think the general ownership model of cars is going to change over the next 20 to 30 years as people become less brand loyal. And the idea of having a big hunk of metal sitting on your drive six days a week doing nothing becomes less desirable, so instead, you would hire a car just for the journey you’re taking.

If I were to be bold, I’d predict manufacturers would be worried about that. A lot of car purchasing is based on emotion, desire, and want as opposed to need. I think it might be a worry to manufacturers who think it will become less of an emotional decision. But I still think we as humans will find a way to add emotion into any ride-share transaction, as it continues to make a statement about you and manufacturers will indeed ultimately benefit from that.

 

I’m putting you on the spot here a bit: if we did this interview again in ten years, what solid prediction can you make about the automotive landscape?

If I had to stick my neck out and guess, I’d say electric cars will have a significant portion of the market but diesel and petrol will still be around. It’s tough! I don’t know if I can see a whole lot of progress in the autonomous process, but I do think ride-sharing could well be the new big thing. So progress in two out of the three topics we’ve talked about isn’t bad!

What I will say about electric vehicles is they’re much quieter than petrol cars; you can’t hear them coming. So that has safety implications that I don’t think the industry has quite solved yet. So if you’re about to cross a road you might listen for an engine, but with an EV it doesn’t have that. Will EVs beep as they go along? Do we create an artificial engine sound? I don’t know, but there’s definitely a discussion to be had about what noise these cars should make to herald their arrival around the corner.

It was a very strange experience to go to the Goodwood Festival of Speed recently and see a drifting demonstration. The first car the driver used was a Jaguar F-Type with a V8 engine, so you had the roar of this engine and the screeching of the tyres. But then he did the same thing in an electric car and there was just the screech of the tyres, which was very strange to watch!

 

I guess it’s a bit ghost-like.

Yes, exactly! You’re almost looking at the car thinking, “how’s that moving along the road?” You’re so used to seeing cars one way through your whole life. It’s a weird sensation.

 

Well thanks for your time, Paul. It’s been enlightening. Before we go, one last question. And it’s another difficult one: if I had to make you choose, what’s your one favourite car of all time?

That’s the impossible question! People who like cars and dedicate their life to cars never have just one. So the only way I would answer that is, if I had unlimited funds, I would enjoy making that choice. I can’t give you a straight answer I’m afraid!

 

Good answer; I’ll let you off. Again, thank you, Paul.

Like the entire automotive team at RealtimeUK, Paul is a lover of all things automotive. It’s just one of the many reasons we’re a trusted partner with many well-known manufacturers. You can find examples of our stellar work here. If you would like to discuss your latest project, feel free to get in touch at paul@realtimeuk.com.