It seems that last year may have been the year when the automotive industry turned a corner, leaving behind a century of steady development, and entered a brave new world where its decades-old business model becomes increasingly irrelevant, thanks in no small part to the involvement of (or interference by, depending on your view) the technology sector.
As a recent BBC article (‘2016: The year the car industry’s revolution moved into top gear’) noted: “It’s been a year that should dispel doubts the car industry is going through a technological revolution. The convergence of traditional motor manufacturing and new digital technologies has been shifting slowly through the gears for a couple of years. But in 2016, things hit top speed.”
Certainly, recent years have seen a high number of partnerships being formed to increase the pace of development, particularly around batteries and charging. The latest, announced in November, will see BMW, Daimler, Ford and VW Group work together to develop a Europe-wide network of 400 fast-charge points.
Motor shows continue to be snubbed by big automotive brands, who are increasingly attending events such as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This year’s CES saw myriad automotive-related products and services launched, including important announcements from Faraday Future, Harman, TomTom and Delphi, while the keynote address was delivered by Carlos Ghosn (Chairman and CEO of Renault and Nissan, and Chairman of Mitsubishi Motors).
And new brands such as Moia (from Volkswagen) and Lynk & Co (Geely) show that manufacturers are moving away from merely building cars to providing ‘mobility services’ – which is only possible thanks to mobile technology.
It’s here that the most notable and rapid change in the stance of automotive players has taken place, and two formerly disparate sectors – the traditional automotive industry and the rapidly changing technology industry – are now bedfellows, whether comfortable ones or not.
This new marriage of hardware, software and firmware may bring a smile to anyone familiar with the rumoured mid ‘90s ‘If the computer industry made cars’ war of words between Microsoft and General Motors (which can be viewed here).
However, there are still many challenges to be overcome before various visions such as autonomous road transportation and readily shareable cars are fully realised, as Uber’s ill-fated and highly public recent experiment with self-driving cars showed.
Still, it seems the revolution is truly gathering pace, the BBC article noting: “A string of deals, strategic announcements and investments has even left some experts wondering if a bubble is growing.”
Whether that turns out to be the case or not, there are interesting times ahead, which will bring significant challenges and opportunities that have not been seen before.