It’s been an interesting year so far for the North American auto industry. We’ve seen the early reveal of Chevy’s newly redesigned Silverado, as well as the slightly depressing news that the auto industry has seen sales slump, despite the growing economy. There’s talk of new tariffs on aftermarket auto parts imported into the US, as well as a lot more interest in electrification of cars. What are the most important trends to watch in 2018 and 2019, though? Let’s take a closer look at a few of the things that you might have missed, or that might not be obvious in the coming months.
Wave ‘Bye to Sedans
Ford made us all widen our eyes a little bit with the company’s April announcement that they would eventually stop manufacturing all of their cars sold in the North American market with two exceptions. Apparently, the only two cars that Ford wants to keep are the Mustang and the Focus Active. Everything else will be discontinued. The goal is to have 90% of the automaker’s portfolio focused on SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks by 2020.
While Chevy hasn’t made a similar announcement, you could see the beginnings of this trend with the actions taken by what is now Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which has taken an axe to most of the cars the company previously manufactured (with a couple of exceptions).
Another trend that has marked 2018, and will become even more pronounced in 2019 is the rise of electrification. This is particularly noticeable with high-end European imports, where most brands have at least one EV on the market today, as well as one or more hybrids, or are at least in the concept design stages. Other examples include the rising diversity of hybrids on the market, including a growing number of plug-in hybrids, as well as other configurations.
Total sales (true EVs only) for 2018 are expected to reach 1.4 million units sold, although most of the demand will not come from the US, but from China, which is already the world’s single largest automotive market. Not convinced that EVs and plug-in hybrids are the diesel engines of tomorrow? Look at the number of electric charging stations being installed all across the US by Tesla, as well as others. New Motion (Shell’s recent acquisition) is doing the same thing throughout Europe.
Don’t expect the self-driving car trend to go away, or to even slow down. Despite mishaps and accidents that have been heavily covered in the press, self-driving cars are here to stay. They’re also getting a helping hand from the US government. Congress signed a major bill that supports exploration and development in self-driving car technology, and most automakers have heavily invested in this area, including Ford, Toyota and many others. Of course, Google and other tech companies have quite the head start here, so look for new alliances and partnerships to form allowing tech and auto firms to benefit from synergy.
Autonomous Goes Commercial
While this particular trend could be lumped in with the wider growth of self-driving technology, it deserves an individual mention. At CES 2018, Toyota debuted the company’s e-Palette concept. While this is still just a concept vehicle, it’s one that has gotten quite a few companies to sit up and take notice, including Uber and even Pizza Hut. Essentially, this is an autonomous box on wheels that can be configured to fit specific business models and needs. It could work in any number of different applications, from food delivery service to ride sharing, and everything in between.
AI Coming to Your Car
The rise of AI has been seen pretty much everywhere, but nowhere more than with smartphones and tablets. Whether you love Cortana, Siri, or Google Assistant, you’ll find that your favorite AI helper is getting a little closer to being integrated with every aspect of your life. Every single major automaker has announced a partnership with one of the main AI assistant companies, including Microsoft, Google and Apple. Others are in the lineup – BMW already partners with Google and offers Google Assistant, but Amazon’s Alexa is on the way.
Automotive Subscription Plans
Subscription plans are nothing new in the wider world. You subscribe to Amazon Prime. You subscribe to Apple Music or to Spotify. Apple even offers an iPhone subscription service that lets you trade in your phone each year. Now the same concept is coming to the word of car sales. In fact, you’ll find that several automakers already have such a plan in place, including Lincoln, Porsche, and Cadillac, to name just three.
Such a plan offers consumers the chance to enjoy hassle-free upgrades to new vehicles on a shorter timeframe than would otherwise be possible, without the issues that come with buying and leasing a car. The automakers benefit because consumers are locked into the brand.
Changing Electrical Systems
This one has been promised for years now, but it seems like it’s finally going to come to pass. The aging 12-volt automotive electrical system is about to be phased out. In its place? A 48-volt system. That’s great news for both automakers and consumers, both of whom are relying on an increasingly wide range of power-hungry devices. Look for this to play an important role in everything from the growth of the Internet of Things to self-driving technology. In addition to being more robust, a 48-volt system will use a thinner, lighter wiring harness, opening up more space within the interior for other things.
These are just a few of the most interesting trends to track in 2018 and into 2019. There are plenty of others, like the increasing number of crossover models on the road and in development, the growth of luxury brands, and the explosion of interested in pickup trucks.