Howes: Techy talking cars need federal road rules
We’re one step closer to realizing “The Jetsons.”
General Motors Co. says new Cadillac CTS sedans rolling off a Lansing assembly line have the ability to “talk” with each other using what the industry calls “V2V,” as in vehicle-to-vehicle communication. And so can a new Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
But there’s a catch. Comparably equipped E-Classes and CTSs cannot communicate with each other, the manufacturers say. That underscores a screaming reality of new technology-infused vehicles and the inevitable drive toward autonomous cars able to operate with or without a driver:
Without comprehensive standards to govern the emerging mobility space, automakers face the prospect of producing metal that mostly talks to itself — hardly the Brave New World envisioned by the futuristic cartoon of the 1960s, today’s Detroit industry and visionaries in Silicon Valley.
All of which raises a critical question: where will Trump administration regulators likely land on the call for federal rules governing vehicle-based communication capable of “talking” with other vehicles and such infrastructure as roads, highways and bridges?
They should land on the side of drafting uniform regulations, and quickly, because the industry’s ability to field these technologies and move up the mobility curve is outpacing the government’s ability to keep up. What a surprise.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is co-founder of the Senate’s bipartisan Smart Transportation Caucus. He’s met with the new Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, and he expects the new administration to continue the work of its predecessors in crafting benchmark standards the industry can use to develop next-generation rides.
It should. Because a lag in setting new government regulations threatens to become a brake-slowing development. Wallowing in the bureaucratic mire also could, up to a point, potentially cede competitive advantage to Detroit’s foreign rivals — hardly the stuff of making America great again.
President Donald Trump has made a lot of noise about “bringing jobs back” to the industrial heartland. He’s touted Ford Motor Co.’s decision to cancel construction of a new car plant in Mexico, followed by a move to reinvest in its Flat Rock site and add some 700 jobs. He’s claimed credit for moves by GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV to reinvest in Michigan.
Fine, never mind that the timeline of those decisions stretches back further than his improbable victory over Hillary Clinton. But the president’s focus on the rearview-mirror issues of plant investments and trade flows risks diverting attention from the road ahead and the role federal rule-making can have on it.
Team Trump should focus on both. It’s becoming increasingly clear that GM CEO Mary Barra and the rest of her leadership team have it right: The industry that has defined Detroit, and moved the world, for a century is likely to change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50.
In major metro areas, car ownership is slowly giving way to weekend car-sharing and Saturday night ride-sharing. Who needs to own a car in Manhattan when smartphone-based software can order cars, produce security protocols and pay for the entire experience with less hassle than it takes to get a taxi?
Cars and trucks essentially have the capability to talk to each other, to roads, bridges and other infrastructure. With cameras, radar and lidar, the technology exists for vehicles to essentially drive themselves, a prospect that some fear and others figure will be outlawed once a single ugly accident happens.
Government has a role here, both state and federal. Typically, the feds focus on safety and standards while states focus on licensing, traffic management and road maintenance. Standards governing connected vehicles and the coming of self-driving cars are likely to connect the two in new ways — provided all that technology can be protected from hacking.
The unauthorized release this week of Central Intelligence Agency documents showing the agency considered penetrating connected cars could undermine industry efforts to assure would-be consumers the technology is safe. Wonderful, now the industry has to engineer against spooks?
Apparently so, reminding that even the most promising technologies can be used in ways their creators may not have imagined.
Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHowes_TDN, listen to his Saturday podcasts, or catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.