HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.—"What happens if you wake up tomorrow and have no customer base?"
That was the question Steve Charles, vice president, product development for Bridgestone Americas Inc., asked of his audience at the 33rd Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference at Hilton Head.
Charles was one of several industry speakers who spoke about the industry shakeup autonomous vehicles are causing, and what they are doing to meet that challenge.
The disruption caused by autonomous vehicles is the biggest the tire industry has faced since pneumatic tires replaced wooden spokes, according to Charles.
"This is a perfect storm," he said. It is driven not only by automated driving, but also by changes in global demographics, technological advances, regulations, changes in societal behavior and the drive toward environmental sustainability.
Silicon Valley is driving much of the disruption in the mobility market, along with ride-sharing platforms such as Uber and auto makers developing or acquiring autonomous technologies, he said.
Information technology, with its increased potential for modeling and simulation, has become a paramount issue for tire makers, according to Charles. Bridgestone recently renovated its IT building in Akron and centered all its data there, he said.
"We have stored the tapes that once filled a building on a card the size of a piece of paper," he said.
Meanwhile, millennials are driving less, using ride-sharing services more, and moving to walkable cities with accessible public transportation, according to Charles.