Automotive trends for 2014

Trent Ernst, Editor

 

What does the future hold for the humble (and not so humble) automobiles? Here’s where the industry is moving to, at least in the short term.

Japan is passe. In 2012, six of the top ten selling vehicles in North America came from a tiny island of the coast of Asia. While the big three are still doing fine, thank you very much, companies like Subaru, Mitsubishi and Mazda are not doing very well. And even the big three are looking lackluster these days, putting out vehicles that lack sex appeal.

Korea is coming on strong. Last year, Hyundi and Kia hit the number five spot on the list of world’s largest car manufacturers, with Hyundi pulling in seven billion dollars in profit. It appears they are following the Japanese model: spend a few decades building brand awareness building cheap disposable cars, then slowly start building quality on top of quantity. Hyundi is positioning itself to go head to head with Lexus over the next few years.

Don’t touch that wheel, Dave.

Over the last few years, Google has been experimenting with self-driving cars, and slowly, technology is making that future a reality. Already we have vehicles that will self park, and semi-autonomous vehicles are closer than you think. SONAR, LIDAR and camera technology are making their way into the automotive industry.

Some pundits picture a world where, instead of owning a vehicle, self-driving car services pick you up and drop you off at your destination, just like in Total Recall, minus the inflatable driver.

Trying to crack the market is hard.

Quick, name a car company that’s less than ten years old.

If you said Tesla, you’re wrong, as they’re just about to turn eleven. After a decade of struggling, the upstart electric vehicle company is finally starting to make inroads into the mainstream market with its model S.

This just goes to show that starting a car company is difficult, and Tesla looks to be the exception that proves the rule. While we might be seeing the amusingly named Tata Nano on the road sometime in the future, chances are they won’t make much of an impact outside of their home base of India. Fisker has gone belly up and Next Autoworks has basically been mothballed after failing to secure a loan.

Electrical vehicles are hard to do.

Speaking of Tesla, they are also the exception in the alternative propulsion market. Sure, electric vehicles are seen by many as the future of the industry, but other than the Tesla and the Nissan Leaf, most electric vehicles remain in the future, for now. And the promise of hydrogen powered vehicles is, well, promising, but unlike electrical vehicles, which can plug into any wall socket, there is no infrastructure for hydrogen. While Honda, Hyundi and Toyota all say they’re planning to produce hydrogen vehicles by 2015, Ford and Renault-Nissan both cancelled their hydrogen powered research a few years back. Earlier this year Lux Research published a report saying “the dream of a hydrogen economy…is no nearer.”