Few industries are constantly changing as rapidly as the automotive one. Advances in technology, shifting consumer behaviors, and global economies of scale are leading to breakneck change for automakers all over the world. It can be hard to keep up with the advances that are taking place on a sometimes daily basis. Here are 10 trends currently shaping the auto industry, for better or worse.
From opening your car door with a fingerprint to starting the engine with a retinal scanner, biometrics are becoming a larger part of today’s vehicles. These days, your car really does know who you are and can distinguish you from literally every other person on earth. Drivers can now use their unique body parts to unlock or operate their vehicle rather than having to rely on old fashioned car keys.
While some consumer groups and privacy watchdogs have raised concerns about automakers scanning their customers’ fingerprints and eyeballs, the trend to biometric identifiers in vehicles is one that is real and growing in popularity. Some cars even monitor their driver’s vital signs as they operate a vehicle, giving them advanced warning to get off the road if it senses fatigue or a pending medical emergency (or using advanced safety technology to automatically stop the vehicle).
From Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to head-up displays and voice activated controls, today’s vehicles are more connected than ever before. This is a powerful and growing trend that is squarely being driven by consumers who demand seamless integration with their handheld technology. People want to stay connected all the time – even when driving.
Automakers are responding by making their vehicles more connected and offering more advanced infotainment systems. From simple Bluetooth connectivity, to voice activated e-mail and dictation, to built in WiFi hotspots, cars today enable people to remain connected and communicate no matter where they happen to be. More vehicles are coming with connectivity systems and devices built in as standard features, and increasingly the use of touch screens to activate vehicle features will be replaced with voice activation. Why fiddle with buttons, knobs, or touchscreens in traffic when you can just say, “Car, turn on the air conditioning and set the temperature to 72 degrees.”
If there’s an upside to all the technological advancements in today’s vehicles, it’s that many of the new technologies have been developed to improve safety. Blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning systems, dynamic cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, review cameras and more are making the cars, trucks and SUVs we drive safer than ever before.
These features are becoming integrated at a rapid rate. Soon, most of today’s high-tech safety features will be standard in all vehicle makes and models. After all, things like seatbelts, ABS brakes, and airbags used to be luxury upgrades too. This is a good thing, as all these safety features reduce the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities.
Vehicles are getting smaller all the time. Many car companies, such as Ford, are doing away with compact models and sedans altogether, even as they continue to shrink the sizes of their trucks and SUVs. The average vehicle built in 2015 was three inches smaller than the same model built in 2005, and nearly six inches smaller than a comparable one built in 1995. And those are just vehicles built in North America.
In Europe and Asia, vehicles are even smaller. Manufacturers say they can make vehicles smaller today because the engines can deliver the same amount of horsepower in less cubic inches. However, most vehicles have been nipped and tucked all over, and automotive companies continue to squeeze space where they are able. Manufacturers sell the “smaller is better” mantra by pointing out that tiny vehicles consume less gas and are more fiscally responsible.
6. Artificial Intelligence
We’ll get to fully autonomous vehicles later, but even cars that are not fully autonomous today have a good amount of artificial intelligence (A.I.) in them. From vehicles that park themselves, to ones that can alert the driver to a cyclist or pedestrian who’s around a corner, today’s vehicles are really becoming “smart.” It is the growing use of artificial intelligence that is driving this trend.
Seamless integration of A.I. means that many people are unaware of it in their vehicle. Yet one day, consumers will probably look back on the time when vehicles didn’t have a bevy of A.I. in them as the automotive stone age. Many engineers describe fully autonomous vehicles as simply cars that have reached their full potential. Add in the Internet of Things (IoT) with constantly connected vehicles, and the future of A.I. seems limitless.
While some of the luster might be off ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, shared mobility is not a trend that appears to be going away any time soon. Millennials seem particularly enamored of the concept of ridesharing rather than owning their own vehicle. The sustained popularity of ride-hailing services will likely mean that fewer new vehicles are sold.
This trend could also radically reshape major cities such as New York or London, where there could be less traffic congestion and pollution in the future. Ridesharing also means a greater focus on newer model vehicles that can be turned over on leases and less of a market for used vehicles, as well as a dwindling resale market.
Part-and-parcel with ridesharing is the other part of the so called “gig economy” that involves automobiles – delivery services. From Uber Eats to Walmart and Amazon, there seems to be no end to the companies that are starting delivery services that feature freelance drivers using their own vehicles to pick-up items and shuttle them to people’s residence or place of work.
Even 7-Eleven is employing drivers to bring items from its convenience stores to customers – right down to Slurpees and toilet paper. Delivery is not only changing the way people use their vehicles, but it’s helping to shape the types of vehicles manufacturers focus on – moving away from smaller sedans and concentrating on larger crossovers, SUVs, and pick-up trucks that contain more cargo space.
3. Global Trade (Wars)
Few industries are as global in nature as the automotive sector. Most automakers have their manufacturing and sales operations spread around the world and rely on tight, interconnected supply chains to function. So, when the U.S. President scraps the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that has existed with Canada and Mexico since 1994 and imposes tariffs on auto parts from China, it has a profound, and often negative, impact on car manufacturers.
The newly negotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), the looming withdraw of Britain from the European Union (known as “Brexit”), and the ongoing tit-for-tat U.S.-China trade war has left automakers scrambling to adapt their operations and sales in a very volatile global trade environment.
2. Self-Driving Vehicles
The drive to develop fully autonomous, self-driving cars is not slowing down. As mentioned, more artificial intelligence is being added to vehicles all the time. Several companies, from Google to Ford, are in the process of pioneering and fine tuning cars that have the ability to completely drive themselves while the occupants sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
To be sure, a lot must still happen before we are in a world where most of the vehicles on the road are self-driving and communicating to one another without disturbing their human occupants. This trend is very real and likely to continue, even though polls show a majority of people remain skeptical of self-driving vehicles, and are unsure if they will buy one themselves. Nevertheless, most industry analysts agree that self-driving cars are truly the future of the auto industry.
1. Electric Vehicles
Regardless of how popular autonomous vehicles prove to be, electric vehicles are here now and only going to grow in the coming years. Many governments around the world, such as France and the United Kingdom, are mandating that all new vehicles sold in their country be fully electric by 2030. Not only will this trend help the environment, it will also be more cost-efficient for owners who will spend less on gasoline. Or so the logic goes.
To be sure, the transition to fully electric vehicles has not been smooth – owing mostly to the fact that most electric cars have, to date, had limited battery range and there is a lack of places to recharge them. Plus, the cost to own and operate an electric car has been prohibitive until recently. That all that looks set to change though, as companies like Tesla create electric cars that are stylish, elegant, and capable of traveling farther distances on a single battery charge. They are also quickly lowering the price point of electric vehicles, which is key to widespread consumer adoption. The key, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk points out, is to make an attractive, affordable vehicle that can literally go the distance.