I was at the SAE Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress this week, where I moderated a session on Innovation in the industry. Prior to our session, we had a demographer (someone that studies people) talk about how changes in birth rates and immigration are affecting industries as diverse as funerals to gaming. At one point, he pointed out that in the 1960’s, McDonalds was only open in the afternoon. Then someone came up with the idea to serve a quick breakfast and a new and lucrative product category was born for the restaurant. I’m a Detroit native, so when he talked about the big, clunky cars of the OEM’s in 1959 with big, useless wings I could identify. He reminded us that Lee Iacocca saw that teenagers were making hotrods out of stock cars and did not want their father’s old Buick. Thus was born the Mustang. Two game changers for their respective industries.
We discussed some of the disruptive forces in our industry that will change how people, freight and raw materials are processed. It could be UPS with a 3D printing farm close to their hub, so that we send a file to Atlanta, a part is made overnight and shipped to arrive at the destination the next morning. That cuts out 1/2 or more of the normal freight process. It could be different ways of processing cement rubble at a demolition site so that it is processed right there instead of being trucked off-site for processing and trucked back to be used for fill. It could be more re-shoring and near-shoring of plants to minimize the disruption of strikes at ports or fires in Chinese and Indian factories. It could be new approaches to the design of natural gas tanks that allow them to conform to available space in a vehicle, much like a plastic gas tank today is fit into available space on a passenger car.
It will be wireless communications from vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure. We just celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the first traffic light in Cleveland, OH in 1914, yet by 2114 we won’t need them due to all the wireless communications.
It’s going to be an interesting time. I’ve only been in the industry since the mid 1980’s (30 years) and have had a wonderful time helping to bring life saving, productivity improving, and cost reducing technology to the industry. According to typical life expectancy demographics, I’ve got another 25 years to go. It’s going to be quite a ride! In fact, my final ride will probably not be in a heavy casket in a hearse, but in a plastic container carried by a drone to drop my ashes in the sea!