Steer-by-Wire Technology will disrupt the Steering System Market and Impact Autonomous Driving
Steering column manufacturers will witness a Kodak moment. The companies supplying steering columns need to evolve from conventional offerings. If they fail to do so, they would have to exit the market.
The steering wheel will be retractable. According to the concept, autonomous car showcased by various OEM’s such as Volvo 360c, the interiors of future cars will be in the form of a cabin; and the only way to do so is to keep the steering wheel retractable.
Automo foresees a revolution in the landscape of the automotive industry. Everything will be transformed, from designing cars to sourcing components and manufacturing vehicles. The revolution in the automotive will accelerate the adoption of electronics and curb the mechanical components and hydraulics such as hydraulic pressure and gear reduction. The products which used to be considered as the standard equipment such as hydraulic pressure, gear reduction will be diminishing slowly in the automotive industry and more of the electronic components are being employed at present such as electronic control unit, electronic stability control. The technology upgrade will bring about a paradigm shift, especially in the supply structure, and the suppliers who are not ready to change will be left out.
Autonomous driving technology will pose several challenges to steering technology. Once the human is eliminated from driving and the vehicles start to operate on their own, conventional steering system, that is, electric power steering will not be able to assist the vehicle for steering. This will further force the steering suppliers to switch from the current operating system. Moreover, as humans are not required to drive the vehicle, the steering wheel will become redundant. This will further allow OEMs and steering wheel suppliers to focus on other automotive related technology.
Technologies in the automotive domain are gaining further prominence. New technologies related to parking assistance, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, and steering angle sensor are expected to detach the driver. As the automotive industry is moving towards automation, suppliers and original equipment manufacturers are focused on educating the vehicle to drive like a human. This places great importance on steering wheel development, which is further compatible with the OEMs’ vision of the next-generation automated vehicle. OEMs have showcased the cockpit concept for the autonomous vehicle, and to realize this concept, steer-by-wire technology should be the first choice for OEMs. The future cockpit concept suggests that the future steering will be retracted to the dashboard. This will further eliminate the use of the steering column. Steer-by-wire technology is expected to revolutionize the automotive industry and make certain suppliers reach their Kodak moment.
In the aviation industry, steer-by-wire technology has been the norm for decades. In addition, Infiniti, the luxury brand of Nissan, has introduced steer-by-wire, also called Direct Adaptive Steering, in the market. It was the first generation steer-by-wire where steering column was provided for mechanical backup when the electronic system operation failed. In the next generation steer-by-wire, the steering column will be removed from the design architecture. This will further reduce the weight of the vehicle and provide a boost to the fuel economy. Furthermore, if these components are eliminated, the right and left-hand drive vehicles will be cheaper to produce. Steer-by-wire will improve the steering precision and response as compared to the conventional mechanical steering. Future vehicles are expected to be autonomous vehicles, so ADAS function will improve the steering based on electronic input. The automotive industry is expected to employ a steer-by-wire system over a short period of time. This will provide the vehicles with additional benefits such as a reduction in maintenance cost, weight saving, and less complex design.
The war to capture the steer-by-wire system market will be fought on different fronts. The war will be fought between electronic suppliers, Tier 1 suppliers, and vehicle manufacturers. The company that wants to revitalize or change its image will have the opportunity to enjoy the market leader status. The major shift in the technology will increase the likelihood of new companies entering the market and the old companies exiting the market because of low investment and skill gap. The new companies are expected to threaten the dominance of the existing players.
Regulatory compliance is a major obstacle for suppliers of the steering wheel. With respect to automatically commanded steering function (ACSF) regulation, the automated function becomes operative only when the driver indicates of giving up the control. Similarly, when the control is terminated, the driver should be warned with an acoustic or visual signal. In addition to ACSF, the article name Vienna convention on road traffic restricts the driver to take the hands off from the steering wheel while driving. These regulations need to be modified for the successful implementation of autonomous vehicles.
Steer-by-wire is the first step towards achieving autonomous vehicles. This technology is expected to have an impact on semi-autonomous vehicles as well. It will provide flexibility in designing a vehicle, reduce the production cost, and add more comfort to the steering, providing better safety and security. In addition, the most important feature will be to provide driver assistance in operations such as lane control, automatic parking, and others.
Steer-by-wire technology is expected to increase the R&D expenses of suppliers — estimated at 2% of the total turnover. This will further threaten the steering system suppliers, such as Visteon. The key players need to either form an alliance with other suppliers or exit the market.
Automo recommends steering column suppliers to be flexible and focused on their steering related products and act now. The company that fails to adapt and see the changes in the market is expected to lose the market share. The OEMs with a defined and clear strategy for assist mitigation system are more likely to be effective in developing a steering system that is compatible with autonomous driving.