Massive, disruptive changes could give Louisiana an opportunity to land an auto industry plant, a veteran Toyota executive said Wednesday.
Dennis Cuneo, a former senior vice president with Toyota Motor North America who played a key role in establishing the auto giant’s manufacturing operations, told the Baton Rouge Rotary Club that there are real opportunities for the state on the vehicle software development side.
Cuneo, who graduated from Loyola Law School in New Orleans and is vice chairman of Loyola's board of trustees, said the state should try to develop networks with the more than 100 Silicon Valley firms that are working on automobiles. “They’re looking for places to produce components and it could be in Louisiana,” he said.
Cybersecurity for self-driving, autonomous vehicles will be a real issue. General Motors already has 10,000 people working on cybersecurity issues at plants in Georgia, Michigan, Texas and Arizona, Cuneo said.
A number of issues are pushing the automobile industry to expand. President Donald Trump is using tariffs to encourage domestic manufacturers to make more vehicles in the United States. Across the world, governments are pushing for more electric vehicles, which don’t produce emissions like the standard automobile.
By 2025, California and nine other states will require that 15.5 percent of new vehicles be powered by electricity. The United Kingdom and France are pushing to ban internal combustion engines in their countries by 2040.
Because of this regulatory pressure, the cost of electric batteries to power vehicles are going down and the cost of internal combustion engines are going up. By 2025, the two trends will intersect, Cuneo said.
The adoption rates for electric vehicles are all over the map. One industry forecast said 6 percent of all vehicles will be electric by 2030. But some of the most optimistic projections for the adoption of electric vehicles are coming from oil companies. BP predicts 35 percent of vehicles will be electric by 2040, and Shell’s most aggressive forecast projects most will be electric powered by that time.
“Nobody knows where this is going and they’re all hedging their bets,” Cuneo said.
Autonomous vehicles will be the biggest disruptor, he said. Already tech giants such as Apple and Google are working on self-driving cars.
Safety issues will help accelerate the adoption of self-driving cars. While 35,000 people are killed in automobile accidents each year, Cuneo said the industry believes it can trim that number to under 5,000 fatalities a year.
The widespread adoption of self-driving cars will have ripple effects across the economy and society, including fewer repair shops, first responders and emergency rooms, less demand for short-hop flights and public transit, jobs such as cab and truck driver going away and improved traffic flow on highways.
“The hope is this doesn’t reduce demand for cars, but you don’t know,” Cuneo said.