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Exploring the Evolution of Automobiles: Plastics, Autonomy and Beyond

February 20, 2017

How do you begin your typical workday? Coffee, catching up on the news, and reading emails?

Now imagine accomplishing those tasks while en route to work, traveling 75 mph along Interstate 85, or while navigating the stop-and-go of city driving. All within a safely controlled vehicle — and without the expense of a chauffeur.

While the visual may seem like something from a Jetsons-era fantasy, it’s closer on the horizon than you’d think, and it’s one of the ideas explored in depth in January at the Plastics in Automotive Conference in Detroit. The Upstate Business Journal recently published an article by the Upstate SC Alliance that explored the ideas presented in the plastics event in Detroit, with voices from industries that have manufacturing operations within the Upstate and tying industry challenges to Clemson University research.

This week, organizations throughout the state join in celebrating SC Auto Week, which recognizes the vital role that South Carolina’s automotive companies play in shaping our economy and exploring the future of automobiles and all related industries. 

Our thoughts on the Plastics show offer a glimpse into the many directions these automotive conversations can take, which is a centerpiece for the 6th Annual SC Automotive Summit in Greenville as it explores the evolution of automobiles “from modes of transportation to nodes in technology and communication networks:”

The intro scenario above is inspired by a presentation from Renae Pippel, director of strategic research for Yanfeng Automotive Interiors. Yanfeng, a leading supplier of interior features, components, and systems, is headquartered in Shanghai and last summer acquired a Faurecia manufacturing plant in Fountain Inn, announcing $71 million in capital investment.

In her presentation, Pippel presented autonomy, smart mobility, and ridesharing as consumer-led changes that open the door for interiors to be overhauled completely. Picture this: the comforts of home that enable napping or watching videos, or bringing in filing cabinets and tables into the vehicle to provide a mobile office.

It’s worth noting that while autonomous vehicles (capable of guiding themselves without human conduction) are further on the horizon, self-driving technology is increasingly available on car lots today.

“We’re already smart, but we’re shifting to smarter,” Pippel said. Features currently on the road are an indicator, automatic lights and windshield wipers, proximity keys that detect driver-seat position preferences, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, parking assistance technology, and collision-avoiding safety brakes.

That sentiment was echoed by Ian Simmons, vice president of business development and R&D with Magna International Inc. Magna International broke ground in December 2016 on a $29 million manufacturing plant in Spartanburg County, with 480 new jobs projected over five years.

“Fifty-four million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2035,” Simmons told the crowd.

Click here to read “One word for the Upstate: Plastics.”


TOPICS: International, Innovation, Automotive, Colleges & Universities, CU-ICAR