This is the fourth in a new series of Knowledge Centre articles on what is being dubbed as “The New Mobility” – exclusive to the AutoServiceWorld Knowledge Centre. Automotive Consultant James Carter offers a unique look at some of the latest innovations in the automotive world, how they work, how they’re evolving, and what they mean to the aftermarket.
By James Carter
When I consider the future of what mobility will look like, I often consider my own ownership experiences and wonder what tomorrow’s enthusiast will drive and what new opportunities will present themselves to the automotive aftermarket.
Years ago, when I was in my early 20s and newly free of student debt, I saved up, took a loan out from my father and bought a used 1994 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
My car had the “Clubman” pack, which meant no power steering or air conditioning, but it featured Bilstein shocks and Torsen LSD – a real star on track days.
Pleased, but wanting more, I turned to the automotive aftermarket for some further upgrades. I added a 2-1/2″ exhaust with sports muffler, headers, cold air intake, lowering springs, remote locking with alarm and sticky Yokohama Advan tires. The Bilsteins were also rebuilt to prevent ‘weight jacking’ under braking at the track and a few other adjustments done to make sure the car was really well tuned and maintained properly.
When it was done, the car was amazing! It cornered like it was on rails, would drift at will and generally provided huge entertainment for a young car nut like me. It was regularly tracked and proved to be huge fun along the windy roads outside of Melbourne, like the famous Great Ocean Road, or my favorite, the Reefton Spur.
But things have certainly changed since the late 1990s – both for me personally and the car industry. Now that I have a wife and two little girls, my automotive priorities have changed. We have a Subaru WRX now. The back seat was a necessary feature. But I still have a healthy appreciation for performance vehicles – the ones that used to be one roads in decades gone by, the ones true enthusiasts are driving today, and the ones that will be coming down the ‘pike in the near future.
Performance enthusiasts have discovered electric vehicles, and the two fastest accelerating production vehicles available today are both EVs – the Tesla Model S P100D and the Rimac Concept One, both capable of accelerating to 60 mph in under 2.5 seconds. While neither vehicle has anything like the top speed of a Lamborghini Aventador or Bugatti Veyron, instant off the line maximum torque makes for very rapid acceleration.
Electric vehicles also allow for dramatic improvements in vehicle ride and handling as well.
Most newly-designed EVs feature battery packs that run along the central spine on the underside of the vehicle. This means the heaviest component is kept low and central in the vehicle, which, in technical terms, keeps the roll center low and polar moment central in the vehicle. This allows engineers to tune a vehicle for exceptional handling without actually having to try too hard.
If you’ve driven a BMW i3 or Chevrolet Bolt, you’ll be surprised at how strong the performance is and how little body roll there is when attacking a corner. What looks like a shopping trolley is actually much closer to a warm performance hatch.
Just like with “quadcoptor” drones, the introduction of an electric drive trains allows for each wheel (4 motor) or each axle (dual motor) to receive very fine and highly optimised instructions to limit wheel spin and improve handling through electronic torque vectoring (usually sending more drive to an outside rear wheel to improve traction out of a corner).
It’s worth watching an acceleration test on YouTube of a Rimac Concept One vs a Bugatti Veyron on a wet road to see just how big of an advantage this is.
All of these things point to very different skill sets need for performance tuners of the future. Sure, sticky tires and the obligatory lowered springs and stiffer shocks will be still in demand, but improving the drive train will be less the work of a wrench monkey and more the skills of a software programmer. We’ve seen outfits like Cobb tuning successfully play around with coding and ECUs for Subarus for a while now, but these new age tuners will be looking at things like battery management, delivery of electricity to the motor and many other areas that traditional tuners will not have thought of.
As well, upgraded parts will probably become available, like ultra low resistance cables, and new types of battery cells… or we could just go ‘old school’ and drop in a more powerful motor or battery.
The area that I’m most excited about is drive train tuning to influence handling. Just as the Concept One is capable of having an electric engine per wheel allowing for very precise control and adjustments, this will allow the driver to change the handling from safe and secure to a smoking drift monster with the turn of a dial. This can be combined with the controls of electronic magnetorheological dampers and electric steering to further enhance control.
As well as performance upgrades, we’re likely to see huge advances made in both hardware and software for in car entertainment.
In an autonomous vehicle world, new windshields that incorporate screens with Augmented Reality will become very much in demand. This will allow a commuter to work, be entertained and do whatever they like while commuting, and I am sure there are many aftermarket products to come that will satisfy the needs for whatever someone plans on doing! Inevitably, upgrades to older vehicles will be in demand, and the aftermarket is in a great place to make this a reality.
I am sure there will be many that will yearn for the performance days of internal combustion engines, just as previous generations yearned for hot rods and muscle cars, but times change and the tastes of enthusiasts do as well. And where there’s enthusiasts with money, you can bet there will be a shop that pops up that will provide for their needs.
The world of future performance vehicles will bring some very significant changes for the aftermarket, but in its own right, it will be exciting and interesting, just as it is today. I expect that the flavour compared to today will change, but a committed group of passionate enthusiasts who are no longer “petrol heads”, will keep flying the flag.
And that’s only good news for the automotive aftermarket.
James Carter is principal consultant at Vision Mobility, a Toronto-based consultancy. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to follow James’ insights on LinkedIn.