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Town Hall Recap: Stellantis Voices in Action

February 25, 2021
On Feb. 24, Stellantis held a second Voices in Action town hall.  Shane Karr, head of external affairs for NAFTA of Stellantis moderated the conversation with Hilary Cain, vice president of technology, innovation and mobility policy at Alliance Automotive Innovation, and Glenn Stevens Jr., vice president of automotive and mobility initiatives at the Detroit Regional Chamber and executive director of MICHauto. The three discussed key policy issues and barriers to the implementation of autonomous vehicles.

While autonomous vehicles have many potential benefits, there is some confusion at the federal, state, and local levels on how to regulate them. One reason this has been such a challenge, Cain said, is that there is not a comprehensive regulatory framework in place at the federal level yet. Vehicle standards were written years ago with the basic assumption of a human driver using a steering wheel and brake pedals, for example.  These standards are fundamentally incompatible with a vehicle that does not require a human driver. It can take years to update vehicle standards, so the focus now is on getting a workable interim framework that allows this technology to move forward while standards are updated.

Looking at regulation from a state perspective, Stevens Jr. highlighted that the industry is at an inflection point where companies and policies need to evolve, or risk being left behind. In Michigan, there is a clear focus on developing new technologies and implementing testing centers to enable those technologies. This can be seen from the high level of engagement from Governor Schneider to Governor Whitmer, as both have continued to press our state forward. This is a non-partisan issue, and the state is focused on doing what is required to remain a global leader in automotive and mobility.

Aside from federal and state regulation, there is another key element to successfully deploying autonomous vehicles: consumer acceptance. Cain and Stevens Jr. agree that with any new technology there is going to be some skepticism and fear. The best way to overcome that is by enabling consumers to have exposure to these new technologies in a safe environment, to become familiar with them and how they function, and to experience new use case scenarios.  Interestingly, Cain believes that the COVID-19 pandemic helped in exposing a number of new use cases that were not within the consciousness of the consumers even a year ago.

Stevens Jr. points to three key things that need to happen for consumers to accept such an advanced technology:

  • Consumers must understand why the technology is important and how it improves safety, congestion, and emissions.
  • Technology must be made available for people to experience it directly and become comfortable with it.
  • Conversation around use cases to improve understanding of how this technology is used in positive ways to advance public health and safety.

One question that remains top of mind for companies and consumers alike is, who is responsible? The liability topic is a big one and involves the barriers to implementation of autonomous vehicles. Just like it is difficult to regulate a vehicle without a human driver, it is difficult to point the blame when an accident takes place involving a vehicle that drives itself. While legal experts would like to have some clarity around this point, it may not be addressed before autonomous vehicles hit the road due to our robust justice system and ability to assess on a case-by-case basis.