Addressing a Tire Industry Association a recent event in Las Vegas, Smallwood said as with every significant technological change, AVs will lead to disruption across automotive manufacturing, retail and service sectors.
"If new car sales drop by 40%, what happens to the 925,000 (workers) involved in vehicle and parts manufacturing, 1.2 million involved in new car sales, 2 million in parts retail trade, 450,000 automotive repairers, 450,000 in auto body?" he asked the 30 Oct meeting.
"What about the 4 million professional drivers? We're starting to talk about very real numbers here who will be displaced with this change in technology."
However, the tire industry likely will weather the storm, the Sumitomo Rubber executive went on to predict.
"The good news, honestly, is AVs will still need tires. But the current manufacturing/distribution model will change significantly," said Smallwood.
Tire consumption will be about the same, while total miles travelled actually will climb due to increased use of the AV, the Sumitomo boss forecast.
Tire tread life and the interval between tire replacement, he added, will be extended due to the AV's constant monitoring of its maintenance and repair needs.
"Tires will become more monetised because if you lose passion for the vehicle and you lose passion for driving it, then it's nothing more than transportation. Then the tire becomes round and black and holds air," said Smallwood.
Tire dealers will be dealing more with fleets than individual vehicle owners, if consumers adopt vehicle-sharing models or use fleet-owned taxis, he further predicted.
"There will be a shift from consumer purchasers to fleet purchasers, because if it goes to a shared model where people no longer own the car...those are fleet items, those aren't consumers," Smallwood said.
"So, the buy/sell process changes dramatically. That will force consolidation of distribution and manufacturing. It has the possibility of impacting the entire chain."