Ever since the automotive industry collapsed in 2008, American car manufacturers have been searching for a way forward in a hesitant and distrustful market. With gas prices and the cost of production rising, the average family can no longer afford the big, gas-guzzling SUVs that once dominated the road. The future of the automobile industry will be determined in the next few years, but there are already emerging trends suggesting the shape of things to come. These are the seven most prominent that are already showing up in car dealerships around the country.
California recently passed a law allowing for the introduction of self-driving cars into the market. Google has been aggressively working on the development of technology to making cars drive and park themselves using a combination of GPS and sensors. And after years of testing, it seems the future will soon be upon us.
When belts are tightening, behemoth trucks, SUVs and luxury sedans are no longer a practical choice. They consume too much fuel, are difficult to manoeuvre in cramped cities and cost too much to maintain. As evidenced by the popularity of such cars as the Nissan Dualis, Honda Fit and the Ford Focus, compacts and subcompacts are the answer to these concerns and have become some of companies’ bestsellers. Hot hatchbacks, zippy little vehicles with cargo space and exciting performance, are particularly successful with those looking for economy without sacrificing fun.
Hybrids and Electric Vehicles
Diminishing gasoline supplies and turmoil in the Middle East can be felt directly at America’s fuel pumps. The era of cheap oil is over, and drivers are looking for a replacement before prices skyrocket further. The most sensible solution seems to be hybrid and electric cars. Gasoline hybrids such as the Toyota Prius have been mainstream for years, and the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt brought new interest to the more efficient, but range-limited, electric hybrids. Fully electric cars are making progress but will need to become more efficient to be truly competitive. American car companies are devoting more resources to alternative propulsion systems, but they must do more or risk sliding into irrelevance again.
Shifting Foreign Markets
The last five years have seen a decline for some established foreign manufacturers and a boom for others. Asian companies were able to better navigate the 2008 recession because of their emphasis on the compact sedans that would become so popular soon after. The Japanese tsunami and the rebound of domestic manufacturers has slowed the growth of Subaru, Mitsubishi and other smaller businesses, but Korean companies like Kia and Hyundai are flourishing thanks to their cheap cars with higher production values. Outside competitors are changing, and the shift can help American companies take the pulse of their customers.
Just two decades ago, the average car was still a basic collection of valves, pistons, tubes and metals. Everything worked mechanically, and computer systems were only just beginning to be implemented in the common car. Now, however, cars are hosts to complex systems that monitor every detail of performance. In fact, in a recent interview with The Telegraph, the head of Jaguar RangeRover called the car the “most complex industry in the world” because of the number of precision components in the modern car. This trend will continue as engines become more electrical and cars themselves become smarter. Self-driving vehicles are already being tested on the roads, and features like GPS, safety tracking and even Bluetooth capability are a testament to the encroaching influence of modern technology.
Size for Luxury and Work
Not everyone wants or needs a tiny, gas-sipping hatchback. There will always be demand for the big workhorses and stately cruisers, but they will become more specialized as time goes on. Trucks, for example, are still necessary for work on farms and in industrial jobs. Fewer people choose them as a daily driver, but Ford and Chevrolet can rely on their bigger models to sell reliably. The luxury market is in greater trouble. The Hummer is dead, sedans are shrinking and even the SUV is giving way to the smaller crossover. Until Americans have recovered financially, luxury brands will continue to downsize.
A Focus on Quality and Economy
Overall, the dominant trend in the automotive industry is that of improved value and customer trust. People were left with a bitter taste in their mouths after some of the nation’s most venerable manufacturers slid into bankruptcy. The greatest battle has been reshaping an image of outdated ideas and poor business sense to one of confidence and reliability. The future of the industry lies in producing high-quality cars that balance Americans’ love for comfort with their demands for performance and durability.