The year 2017 was marked by a host of exciting innovations in the automotive industry. From the nitty-gritty of power trains, to enhanced connectivity and the exploration of artificial intelligence (AI) and self-driving cars, the entire landscape surrounding the automobile is being transformed. So what does the coming year 2018 have in store? We took a look at some of the main trends.
One global trend that has definitely moved from the boot to the engine room is what is known as the Internet of Things (IoT). It has now become a driving force in the industry. It could best be described as a large web-based community of sorts connecting nearly 8.5 million objects around the world by way of the Internet, from everyday items like toasters, to the machines in factories or hospitals. The number of objects is steeply up 30% from a year ago, according to Forbes Magazine, and is expected to rise substantially in 2018. And the automotive world is a big part of it.
The key advantage to the IoT is not just its ability to automate processes like starting up your car on a cold morning or switching on the garage lights, but rather in collecting enormous amounts of data. Not surprisingly, the big tech companies are investing heavily in the development of analytics in order to put all the data to good use.
IoT combined with in-depth analysis can be used for improving machines and processes, for instance, making fleet management far more efficient. A growing number of sensors in cars are giving drivers or fleet managers key information about the vehicle and its operations. They will signal when servicing is needed, rather than just tell the driver or fleet manager that an oil change is due or the tires need rotation.
A second trend appearing on the digital horizon is 5G. It is the logical step in the evolution of IoT and the resulting boost in data quantities and need-for-speed. Indeed, devices that have to react instantly will require edge computing. So, we'll probably see the rise of 5G networks, which will allow zero latency applications in vehicles for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications. Thanks to its 1Gbps bandwidth, 5G networks allow seven trillion machine-to-machine connections. The trend towards ever more bandwidth is being driven by the needs of "things".
The technological leap forward will have enormous implications on driving and fleets. Fast data is needed for automated driving, for example, as is satellite connectivity at a minimum of 50 Mbps. The other key element in self-driving cars is augmented- and virtual reality, which can process real-time information to the windshield.
There has been much discussion about artificial intelligence in the past few years, with speech recognition being one of the key subsegments identified for strong growth. Consumers have already become familiar and comfortable with Alexa, Siri, Echo and other digital assistants that use voice communication. These virtual helpers will continue expanding into the business environment to assists users in performing daily tasks or navigating. Alexa will be integrated into BMW and Ford motor vehicles. It will let users do things like ask for a particular radio station, find a coffee shop, or ask for stats on the vehicle, like how much fuel is left. Alexa devices can also sync with the vehicle for ignition or unlocking.
At any rate, AI is making greater inroads into the driving experience, with sensors that warn drivers when they are too close to the side line or warn of other vehicles in the blind spot. Cars can literally park by themselves nowadays, a definite plus in crowded cities, where parking spaces are at a premium and often very tight.
Furthermore, AI is transforming other segments of the industry by helping to reduce costs by streamlining operations and generating new revenue streams. It can be used to predict and then match supply and demand, for example, or improve maintenance scheduling and fleet management. All these developments are leading to ever greater acceptance of, and confidence in, autonomous vehicles. According to a study by Deloitte, 45 percent of consumers in Germany feel that autonomous vehicles will not be safe, down from 72% in 2017.
The industry's vigorous exploration of autonomous driving is accompanied by a strong trend towards alternative powertrains. Here, too, consumer acceptance is a prerequisite, and it has been growing. According to the Deloitte study mentioned above, the current barrier to this segment remains price. Nevertheless, there is quite a market for hybrid or other types of powertrains. Chinese buyers top the list of adopters, with a total of 61% expressing the desire to have some sort of alternative powertrain in their next vehicle.
One area where electric vehicles are highly relevant is the fleet. It makes sense, especially if the company has to work in cities with restricted access to automobiles with conventional engines. The same applies to autonomous vehicles, which can deliver individuals to one location and then pick up other passengers at another location without the need of a driver.
As noted, then, major trends we are seeing are mostly in the realm of information and communication technologies, which are not only driving innovation in physical technologies but also contributing to greater efficiency and savings. It is also thanks to IoT that individuals will be able to organise their journeys effectively using, if need be, a range of different mobility platforms. Car manufacturers and fleet companies are already designing solutions to meet this demand.