TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- If automakers hope to avoid liability in crashes involving autonomous vehicles, regular inspections must be mandated, the chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association said.
Steven Szakaly, speaking here at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars on Tuesday, said the auto industry should take its cue from the aviation and mining industries, which bring their vehicles in for regular, mandated service to ensure systems are working properly.
"You cannot allow those systems to fail,” Szakaly said. "And if you have those systems fail, or you don’t properly maintain those systems and that leads to failure, that liability is on those manufacturers."
Automakers and technology companies such as Google have said they aim to introduce driverless cars to the market by 2020. As that point approaches, much of the discussion around autonomy has centered around who would be at fault in the event of a crash: the owner or the automaker.
Szakaly said it is a given that consumers will misuse or misunderstand autonomous technology, so it is imperative that automakers ensure everything is properly maintained — especially since a failure in an autonomous system is more likely to affect other vehicles than, say, a transmission problem on a manually driven car.
"There’s a 100 percent certainty that if we don’t have mandated service intervals someone’s system is not going to be properly maintained, and there’s a 100 percent certainty that will end catastrophically in some way,” he said.
Szakaly said NADA expects 17.7 million new light-vehicle sales in the U.S. this year, a number that it sees falling to 17.1 million units in 2017.
“We’ve had six straight years of steadily rising sales, which has been a fantastic period of growth, and vehicles per household have returned to the same level prior to the Great Recession,” he said. “But most pent-up demand has been satisfied."
He said the shift in demand away from cars and toward light trucks is here to stay thanks in part to a healthy economy and low gasoline prices. Szakaly said light trucks will account for about 59 percent of new vehicle sales this year.