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Guest blog by Larry Schlagheck, Managing Director, WardsAuto


The times they are a-changin’ was Bob Dylan’s hit single in 1965 and was intended to be an anthem of change. No disrespect to Mr. Dylan and his intent behind the mission of this song, but I’m going to use this famous song title to sum up what we’re experiencing in the retail automotive space.

In fact, we are experiencing this “change” throughout the entire automotive industry.  This past August I attended an industry conference in Traverse City, MI. After the event I joked with the WardsAuto editors that the word “uncertainty” needs to be purged! It seemed as though this word was used in every presentation we encountered. But, how is this any different from the over-use of “challenging” or “disruption” in previous years? Our industry has never been settled and predictable.

Change is happening quickly as it relates to in-vehicle technology, but when are these autonomous vehicles going to hit the road and be on dealers’ lots? I set out to answer this question, because while this new technology has grabbed the headlines, these vehicles are not available to consumers and therefore, dealers don’t really care (and they shouldn’t at this point).

WardsAuto recently completed a study titled “Wards Intelligence 2018 Autonomous Vehicle Trends” and I will be presenting these results, along with other pieces of data at Auto/Mate’s National Customer User Summit in San Antonio, November 7-9.

In this two-part survey conducted this year we asked manufacturers, suppliers and dealers when they believe autonomous vehicles will be available and how quickly consumers will accept these new technologies. Some of the findings were predictable but the differences in answers between manufacturers and dealers were substantial at times. An example of this was with the question: “Who will be the first adopters of autonomous vehicles technology?

The most popular answer with dealers was ride sharing companies (33%), but only 15% of manufacturers predicted ride sharing companies. The number one answer from manufacturers was commercial vehicles (44%); and in an interesting twist, 36% of component suppliers predicted Taxi/Ride-hailing Companies as the most likely first adopters. Change is coming but for whom? It depends on who you ask.

One of the biggest hurdles to the adoption of fully autonomous vehicles isn’t necessarily the vehicles, it’s the infrastructure. Have you ever seen a stop sign spray-painted with graffiti? How will these vehicles handle that? What about snow on the road? It’s tough to keep vehicles in their lanes when the technology cannot see the lane markers. And the expense of infrastructure upgrades will be immense. In 2014 several government agencies came together in Southeast Michigan to develop a “smart highway”. By 2016 only 15 miles of the 125-mile loop around the metro area (using existing highways) has been retrofitted to be “smart”.

Join me in San Antonio to explore these challenges. Change is here, and these issues will get resolved, but when will these changes impact dealership operations?  We will look to answer that question and others at Auto/Mate’s 2018 User Summit.


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