FRANKFURT — Personal avatars, windshield TVs, a car designed to park in your living room and portable steering wheels. Automakers reached deep into their imaginations for the Frankfurt auto show to combat deep-seated fears of "autonomous anonymous" — the future mobility scenario that strips brands of their customer pull and reduces them to the role of supplier.
How that scenario might play out was envisioned by consultancy firm PwC in a report published on the eve of the giant German show. It predicted that around a third of all journeys could be made using shared autonomous vehicles by 2030, cutting profits for automakers as fleet operators muscle in.
"The industry is fretting quite a lot about it," said Christoph Stuermer, global lead analyst at PwC Autofacts. "They're really afraid they're going to be pushed to zero margin by someone who buys 100,000 or 1 million cars a year."
For car journeys not made in robo-taxis hailed on a smartphone, makers of privately run autonomous cars stand to lose the brand-strengthening bond that exists between driver and car.
"There is one nightmare scenario for automakers: an autonomously driven, digitally networked automobile. It only involves what the occupants do with their free time in this space," PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares told German newspaper Bild Am Sonntag ahead of the show. "The hardware, that is, the car being driven, really doesn't matter."
In Frankfurt, automakers set out to slay that nightmare. Audi, fresh from unveiling its A8 limousine with Level 3 autonomous capability, revealed the Aicon, a fully autonomous electric limousine concept without a steering wheel, designed to propel two people in complete luxury over long distances. Twin chairs placed centrally in the roomy interior face a windshield with a head-up display large enough to play movies, while a personal avatar called Pia offers to book restaurant reservations, among other tasks.