The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on the automotive industry, with recurrent closures of assembly parts in the U.S., manufacturing interruptions in automotive plants across Europe, and supply chain disruptions in parts exports from China.
Coupled with a downshift in consumer demand, pandemic-induced pressures have forced automakers to redefine priorities and prioritize areas offering a quicker payback.
Such are connectivity and electrification as opposed to autonomous vehicles and shared mobility. Other trends to watch for are increased focus on in-vehicle entertainment and the user experience, use of harder steels, and supply chain optimization.
Introducing connectivity solutions has become a top priority for automakers. Connected vehicle technology uses real-time data to improve vehicle and road safety. Vehicles communicate with external services, applications, networks, and devices to reduce the risk of traffic incidents, increase situational awareness, and improve traffic flow.
There are multiple applications, from telematics and remote diagnostics and assistance to parking assistance, infotainment, and driver support. Features also include hazard alerts, traffic warnings, automotive braking, and adaptive cruise control.
To minimize the risk of incidents, onboard equipment provides real-time vehicle-based information such as wiper status, anti-lock brakes activation, fuel consumption, and acceleration. If the vehicle’s systems and engine scanning tools anticipate a serious problem, they can intervene to prevent collision.
To further improve road safety, vehicle to vehicle (V2V) communication allows vehicles to share information such as airbag status, steering wheel angle, direction, heading, speed, and location. This data package is called a basic safety message that all vehicles can communicate, regardless of brand and manufacturer.
Vehicles to infrastructure (V2I) technologies enable vehicles to communicate with road infrastructure such as speed signs, traffic lights, cameras, lane markings, and parking meters. Powered by firmware, software, and hardware, V2V communication allows vehicles to interpret their surroundings and respond, thus improving safety, mobility, and traffic management. There are a number of technologies that support the digital ecosystem, such being intelligent road markings and smart signs and traffic lights.
One of the promising trends in 2021 is the growth in electric vehicles. Vehicle manufacturers such as Toyota, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche have all tried their way into the smart electric automotive segment.
In addition to popular players entering the EV segment, other factors fueling growth are changing consumer attitudes toward electric vehicles, legislation and policies such as city access restrictions and emission targets, and financial incentives to switch to electric vehicles.
There are some challenges to EV growth and adoption, however, like inadequate standardization of the charging infrastructure, lack of charging stations and limited driving range, and high cost. The fact that many countries are still in the process of developing infrastructure is one of the major barriers to growth.
Additionally, countries around the world need to standardize the charging infrastructure to incentivize adoption. China uses GB/T, South Korea, the U.S. and Europe use CCS and Japan – CHAdeMO. The cost of owning an electric vehicle is also a major concern, with batteries driving prices up and hindering adoption.
Use of Hard Steels
One of the latest trends in the automotive industry is the use of advanced high-strength steels to improve design, safety, and fuel efficiency. One of the factors driving this trend are increasingly stringent safety standards, especially for head protection and side-impact collision.
To meet demands for safety, more and more automakers opt for advanced and ultra-high strength steels that get smooth finishes thanks to a final grind with superabrasive wheels. The strong steels help produce crush-resistant vehicles. Further benefits are easy maintenance and repair and the fact that hard-steel structures can be recycled multiple times.
New Entertainment Technologies
With technological advancements and ever-growing digitalization, new entertainment and infotainment technologies are the next automotive frontier. New technologies are set to transform the in-vehicle experience in the next couple of years, with more companies seeking to entertain and sell content, services, and products.
In the near future, we are likely to see advanced technologies such as mixed reality and augmented reality, 9D movies and 5G streaming, and immersive gaming experiences. Advanced technologies are set to transform vehicles, with multiplayer social and mobile games, personal voice assistants, in-car karaoke, and a lot more. In the coming years, new gen technologies will transform vehicles into the next living and entertainment space.
Supply Chain Optimization
Faced with recurrent supply chain disruptions amidst an ongoing pandemic, automotive manufacturers are increasingly investing in supply chain optimization to improve predictability and performance. Basically, optimization enables companies to operate at peak efficiency.
Supply chain optimization utilizes new technologies such as Internet of Things, blockchain, and artificial intelligence to improve operational efficiency. It allows businesses to meet key objectives such as scheduling and planning of operations, forecasting demand and supply, tracking product flows, and optimizing delivery. Advanced technologies are increasingly used for coordination of assets, inventory forecasting, transportation and warehouse management, and real-time decision support.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence, in particular, are beginning to transform supply chain management, resulting in improved capacity planning, greater output, and cost savings.
With their ability to process huge amounts of data, AI-enabled technologies can greatly improve inventory management by forecasting seasonal demand, anticipating shifts in consumer behavior, and minimizing the risk of overstocking.
Additionally, AI-powered techniques such as predictive analytics enable preventive maintenance and network and inventory optimization. Predictive analytics utilizes historical and real-time data to cut costs, improve operational efficiency, and reduce risks.
The automotive industry is faced with multiple challenges, from increasing cost pressures and growing global competition to labor shortages and supply-side issues amidst Covid-19.
In 2021 and beyond, automobile manufacturers need to take a strong focus on connectivity, electrification, use of advanced materials, the in-vehicle experience, and more broadly, supply chain optimization.
For automakers to remain competitive, they also need to build and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation to continuously find new answers and quickly adapt to new realities.