The advances in technology that have swept through the automotive in recent years have been startling. Products that once seemed like science fiction are now becoming if not part of our everyday lives, then a part of our everyday conversation. Electric vehicles, batteries that can power a vehicle for hundreds of kilometres, autonomous driving technology, self-driving cars, vehicle-to-vehicle communication, carbon-fibre construction, manufacturing with 3D printing . . . the list is long and growing ever longer.
The automotive industry as we have known it will, within a decade, be transformed beyond recognition.
And we can be sure of this not just because the technology is there, but because the expectations and desire of the public demand it and the will (and the money) to satisfy that desire exists within the giants of the industry.
In the past year, major manufacturers have invested billions of dollars in embracing the technologies that will fuel the automotive industry revolution.
These companies have always spent heavily on R&D of course, but in just the past 12 months Ford paid $1 billion for Argo AI, an artificial intelligence company established to develop self-driving vehicle technology; General Motors, in a deal described as ‘north of $1billion’, acquired Cruise Automation, a developer of autonomous vehicle technology; Volkswagen announced it is to launch 30 electric vehicles by 2025 which would, it said, account for 20 to 25 per cent of sales; and Volvo recently signed an agreement with Autoliv, a leader in automotive safety systems, to develop software for autonomous and driver assistance systems.
Even companies not traditionally seen as a part of the automotive industry have got in on the action – in March, Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, agreed to buy Israeli autonomous vehicle technology company Mobileye for a whopping $15billion.
The momentum for change is unstoppable and right now, as the industry revolution gathers pace, the ground could not be more fertile for those willing to embrace change and take a chance on their big idea.
The question, of course, is how does an individual, a startup business, or even an established business short on resources, take advantage of the opportunities presented in this evolving industry landscape?
Government plays its part, of course, and in Queensland there are initiatives that are designed to help, including the Small Business Entrepreneur Grants Program, the Small Business Digital Grants Program and the Hot DesQ program.
But there are other initiatives out there too, and the MTA Queensland will soon be offering another avenue of support for those with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Long a champion of innovation within the industry, MTA Queensland this year established the Carmageddon symposiums - a series of events that bring together industry, government, researchers and academics to discuss the issues surrounding the industry and the opportunities exposed by the innovation revolution.
Also this year, the Association will establish the MTA Queensland Innovation Hub.
Designed to cultivate a community of entrepreneurial minds that can come together, collaborate and develop their ideas into a viable business proposition, the MTA Queensland Hub will be the first in the state to be geared solely at the automotive industry.
Its creation comes as a direct result of the Association’s continuing drive to offer direction, leadership and support to an industry facing such intense disruption, and it was conceived by Dr Brett Dale, MTA Queensland Group CEO, who saw the need for a different tack to be taken in support of the industry.
“When I was contemplating the future of industry and how we could continue to offer a value proposition, it seemed clear that we had to be thinking about opportunity and the future,” he said. “When we consider the traditional approach taken by many industry peak bodies, there remains a question of relevance and value for money.”
The Hub, he said, would offer clients an ‘ecosystem of entrepreneurship’ and be designed to support not only budding entrepreneurs with a grand idea but also MTA Queensland members – established businesses who lacked the resources to carry their plans forward.
“The innovation hub will be available to support existing members who are forward thinking and working to posture their business for opportunity, but may not be fully resourced to do it by themselves,” he said. “The other type of business we would be geared to support are those individuals with creative minds who have conceived an idea that is aligned with the future of industry. They are likely to be small startups with great insight and potential but may lack the capacity to convert their idea into a reality. So, we would support them through the technical, innovative and business establishment processes.”
And the resources on hand at the Hub will be significant.
It will be located at The Sir Jack Brabham Automotive Centre of Excellence, the MTA Queensland’s headquarters located at Eight Mile Plains, just south of Brisbane.
Built in 2012, contemporary facility offers a wide range of resources. As the administrative centre of Queensland’s automotive peak industry body, as well as the home of the MTA Institute – the largest private provider of automotive apprenticeship training in the state – it features not only high-speed internet connection, but state-of-the-art meeting rooms, classrooms and a fully-equipped workshop.
But it is not just the physical resources that would be available to Innovation Hub clients. The human resources of the Association would also be on hand.
“And those resources are considerable,” said Dr Dale. “We certainly have the experts and the support to underpin the Hub’s purpose.”
Advice and assistance from those with expertise in Information technology, marketing and social media, graphic design and industrial relations will be available, as will guidance in business management. Even senior trainers from the MTA Institute will be available for advice on any ideas or concepts relating to practical automotive technology.
And the assistance available through the Innovation Hub goes further. The MTA Queensland’s contacts with industry, government and other educational institutions will ensure that concepts with potential get before the decision makers and business leaders that matter.
“I see the opportunity as being live and evolving,” said Dr Dale. “We anticipate that we would connect them with business, introduce them to other experts, including from academia, and possibly pair them with mentors who can help guide them further. We would assist in finding appropriate government program support, create the necessary legal structure and support them with appropriate marketing strategies.”
As the automotive industry continues to evolve, it is important that businesses adapt and new thinking and new ideas are encouraged and nurtured. The MTA Queensland Innovation Hub will play a vital role in that development.
“The next 3-10 years will bring more change to industry than the last 200,” said Dr Dale. “We know in our industry that the ‘how’ of disruption is the technology such as driverless vehicles, artificial intelligence and so on, and the ‘why’ of disruption is the human - that is the consumer, the motorist. Their expectations have outgrown current technology and all the global players are investing in that space. The race is on.
“We have the opportunity now to think about those disruptors and create new opportunity. They are the equivalent of the electricity to the ‘light bulb’ – a disruptor that serves as the spark for new products, ideas and business opportunities.
“The time is now and, if we move quickly, the industry, Queensland and Australia can be winners.”