Luca de Meo, Chairman of the Executive Committee of SEAT, was the guest speaker at the latest session of Matins ESADE, sponsored by Bluecap and organised in collaboration with La Vanguardia. According to Mr. de Meo, the development of Industry 4.0 offers new opportunities for the Spanish automotive industry. ''About 10% of the industrial robots in Spain can be found in our plant in Martorell,'' noted Mr. de Meo. SEAT has already begun to incorporate major elements of Industry 4.0 into its manufacturing facilities – 3D glasses, exoskeletons for line workers, etc. – and is the Spanish company that invests the most in research and development, specifically 10% of its turnover (or 3% of all R&D spending nationwide).
''It is vital for Spain to have an electric car factory by 2025,'' commented Mr. de Meo. In order for electric cars to become popular, however, ''we need to work on recharging systems and integrate models that are environmentally efficient, in addition to making them more economically viable'', he added. At present, electric vehicles account for only 0.5% of car sales in Europe and 0.2% in Spain. Nevertheless, Mr. de Meo noted, ''Automotive brands are forging ahead in this area.''
Mr. de Meo predicted that autonomous cars will hit the market between 2019 and 2020. ''The challenge in autonomous cars is the price, safety-related issues and acceptability,'' he commented. ''One of the main goals is to make human driving safer.'' Other major advantages of autonomous cars mentioned by Mr. de Meo are the fact that ''drivers can optimise their time behind the wheel'' and ''people who previously were unable to drive – like people with disabilities or elderly people – will now be able to do so''.
Asked about the role of tech companies, Mr. de Meo stressed that ''Google and Apple will focus on the automotive issue in a different way''. He added: ''I don’t know if they will manufacture cars, but their business will be controlling the mobility operating system. The capacity of the automobile industry should not be underestimated; we are almost never the first to do something, but when we get there, we democratise it and make it more accessible.''
Car sharing and connectivity
''Car sharing will become a key element in urban mobility policy,'' predicted Mr. de Meo, primarily because it is a sustainable and inexpensive mobility option. ''By 2050, one in three cars will be shared. Big cities like Barcelona and Madrid are the places where this phenomenon is growing the most, by around 60% per year.'' In a car sharing arrangement, Mr. de Meo explained, ''Each vehicle is used at least ten times more than a privately owned car.'' Therefore, he concluded, ''The challenge of the automotive industry will be to look for business in other areas.''
''There can be no car sharing without connectivity,'' observed Mr. de Meo, who added that there are expected to be 50 million connected vehicles on the road by 2020. ''The number of newly manufactured cars that include connectivity will increase sevenfold over the next five years. This will be a key factor in the purchase of a vehicle. The customer will not be the end point of a chain but the centre of a network. Cars will therefore become people’s second platform, after their mobile devices.'' Regarding the business model for connected cars, Mr. de Meo commented: ''It is not clear that this model will be profitable. Measuring success on the basis of sales or market share will be an outdated notion.'' Other challenges, he continued, include ''what to do with the data generated by connected car manufacturers – drivers may demand economic compensation in order to share their data – and also cybersecurity, one of the biggest challenges, since a connected car is an exposed car''.
Mr. de Meo concluded: ''Strategic decisions must now be made; vehicles are going to be one of the most intelligent parts of the Internet of Things.''