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Automotive Innovation Drives Growth and Modernization across the Country

Automakers are committed to innovation within our industry. They spend more than $100 billion globally and $18 billion in the U.S. each year on research and development, with an average of $1,200 per vehicle spent on R&D. The automotive industry bears the brunt of the cost of creating, designing, testing, and implementing new technologies for our cars and light trucks, with relatively little funding from government sources.

This investment helps our companies create, embrace, and adapt new technologies in engines and transmissions, alternative fuels, materials and joining, and vehicle-to-vehicle connection and automation. A recent report developed by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in Ann Arbor, Michigan details how the industry’s deep commitment to developing cleaner, safer, and more efficient vehicles creates and affects millions of U.S. jobs.

As we strive to better our own products and processes, advances in auto technology ripple outward to drive innovation and economic growth in other industries. Commercial transit, military, aerospace, and consumer and enterprise technology sectors all benefit from our R&D achievements and investments.Below are several key ways in which automotive innovation drives advancement and economic growth in these key sectors.

Modernizing Daily Commutes



Thanks to recent advances in automotive technology, cars can now “talkto each other and even surrounding infrastructure such as roads and traffic signals. Sensors and artificial intelligence now enable vehicles to measure and react to the surrounding area in ways very similar to human responses. Automated vehicle technology detects dangerous conditions, including stopped cars and other hazards miles ahead, and warns drivers to slow down. It can even take evasive action to protect passengers and pedestrians alike.

Related industries like long-haul trucking and commercial transit can benefit immediately from this technology. Imagine tractor trailers that warn sleep-deprived operators of minute deviations from lane lines during long night runs, or heavy buses that receive brake warnings well before accidents and dangerous road conditions to protect passengers and surrounding drivers. Such applications of auto industry breakthroughs could make roads safer and generate cost savings for commercial transporters through fewer delays, fewer accidents, and lower liability.

McKinsey Global Institute published a study revealing that the auto industry will be the second largest data producer in the country by 2015. The data comes largely from cars themselves from embedded sensors and from connected devices used by drivers and passengers. Through this data, “smart” intersections will soon allow stop signs and traffic lights to speak with vehicles to mitigate dangerous situations like red light running and “blocking the box,” allowing local and state governments to maximize their enforcement and road safety resources.  

In addition to safety advances,traffic lights outfitted with vehicle sensing technology will be able to cut down on unnecessary idling. According to a report by the Argonne National Laboratory, “if each car in the United States idles just 6 minutes a day”, it wastes “3 billion gallons of fuel” and costs drivers “$10 billion or more.”  Auto-connectivity sensors at lights can cut into this waste by optimizing traffic flow and maximizing fuel efficiency, whether it’s four way rush hour traffic or a single car stopped at an empty intersection.

Motivating Military and Aerospace Advances

In the past, developments by military and space researchers often found their way into cars. Recently, however, noted experts have observed that the auto industry is now showing the way in technological innovation. According to The New York Times, the U.S. military lags behind auto manufacturers in the development and adoption of autonomous vehicles, despite Congress’ goal of converting one third of the military fleet to unmanned vehicles by 2015. While today’s automotive advances are partially rooted in research sponsored by DARPA, the Pentagon’s advanced technology agency, the NYT notes that now the shoe is now firmly on the other foot.

The auto industry has also pioneered light detection and ranging technology, known as LIDAR, which detects objects by flooding the surrounding environment with invisible, harmless lasers and analyzing the reflection. In combination with cameras and other existing auto sensors, this technology creates a 3-D view of the surrounding area. This automotive safety feature can be repurposed to create welcome safety improvements in the aerospace sector.

As Michigan Radio reports, LIDAR technology offers a cutting edge solution to improving the safety and efficiency of air travel, in the wake of recent tragedies. By building LIDAR into commercial airliners’ tracking and flight systems, the global airline industry could reduce congestion and improve safety on flight routes through the powerful combination of advanced range sensing and 3D modeling. Reduced delays and increased customer confidence – all made possible through auto technology.

Pacing the Tech Industry and Building America’s 21st Century Workforce

Rising consumer demand for cars that sync with smartphones has led to a surge in development for automotive computer systems integration. Reuters details how the millions of lines of computer code required to automate air conditioning, braking, and other systems lead the auto industry to recruit and develop the best and brightest technology talent. Automakers hire thousands of software programmers to play increasing roles in automobile operation and design, which “pits Detroit against its technology partners in Silicon Valley.” While California employs 62,000 engineers, Michigan has nearly 60,000. This friendly arms race for tech talent is good for growing the vital tech sector and for innovation as a whole.  

Meanwhile, virtually every automaker is developing automated vehicle technology, competing in a race toward the driverless future. Every day, this technology is shortening the leap to achieving fully driverless cars operating on the road in mixed traffic, which could revolutionize how we commute. Imagine cutting rush hour snarl through smart autonomous traffic management, allowing harried workers to catch up on email and calls safely and conveniently mid-drive. Driverless technology can boost productivity and open new avenues of economic activity by taking the guesswork and stress out of commuting.      

Learn more about automakers’ commitment to building our workforce, driving automotive innovation, and making travel safer and more efficient through CAR’s 2015 report.

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