The year ahead in automotive trends

2017 trendsThe four mega-trends shaping the global auto industry over the next 15-odd years are undoubtedly vehicles with lower emissions, new powertrain technologies, autonomous automobiles and vehicle digitalization. Reflecting these mega-trends, one can anticipate more developments in lightweighting, drivetrain optimization, car computerization, infotainment and driverless transportation in 2017. Here PlasticsToday gives its take on some of the key developments expected in 2017.

Staying connected, and entertained

Rather than being interested in the size of the engine and the shape of the car, consumers are now more interested in “infotainment” systems, being connected, autonomous driving and diverse mobility, notes consultant McKinsey. Traditionally, most value has resided in the hardware of vehicles and in the automakers’ brands. However, future innovations will probably focus on disruptive technology trends, so customer perceptions of value will shift, increasingly putting incumbents in danger. “Infotainment innovations, together with novel traffic services and new business models and services, will increase as cars get connected to each other, to the wider infrastructure and to people,” notes McKinsey.

3D printing expands its role

3D printing is a common tool for prototyping parts in a variety of industries including automotive. It’s also common to employ the technology to fabricate fixtures and jigs to simplify manual assembly operations. Moving forward, material developments such as the availability of 3D-printing materials with reinforcing fibers will likely see 3D printing used as a tool to fabricate structural parts for low-volume cars and trucks. 3D printing is also being applied to form high-strength magnets with implications for electric vehicle propulsion. Expect more developments in high-speed printing, 3D-printed sacrificial tooling and additive manufacturing in 2017.

Lower cost carbon fiber

The high cost of carbon fiber has traditionally limited its application to luxury vehicles, but help is on the horizon with the impending availability of lower cost sources. LeMond Composites, for example, will offer on a commercial basis carbon fiber that is 50% cheaper. R&D to reduce processing costs also will be critical to make carbon-fiber adoption more widespread, but it’s a step in the right direction

Changes to CAFE standards

With the mid-term review of the 2025 the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards scheduled through 2017, 52% of respondents to a recent survey—pre-presidential election, it must be added—said they expected the standards for fuel economy and emissions to become more stringent, while 35% expected them to remain the same. The current test regime is easy to manipulate (cue the use of duct tape) and does not reflect real-world driving conditions. In any case, many experts view the 2025 targets as unrealistic and riddled with loopholes. Are changes afoot once Donald Trump takes office? Based on Trump’s cabinet appointments, it would be no surprise if the answer is yes.

Startups start delivering

Startup automaker Rivian has been around since 2009. Leaving aside whether it still qualifies as a startup eight years on, the company is in talks to buy the former Mitsubishi plant in Noral, IL, with plans to manufacture fuel-efficient vehicles. Furthermore, Lucid, a 330-person Silicon Valley company founded in 2007, plans to start delivering an all-electric, all-wheel-drive sedan with a 300-mile range in early 2019. And while Faraday Future’s production plans appear to be on hold because of funding issues, 2017 could be the year when competition to Tesla appears on the horizon.

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