Five automotive tech advances to look forward to in 2021

Dr. Christof Engelskirchen | 12 Jän 2021

Über den Autor

Dr. Christof Engelskirchen

A thought leader whose opinions are highly regarded by the automotive industry. As our Group’s Chief Economist Christof looks out for current and emerging trends in the automotive and adjacent industries and puts them into context for our clients and us.

Digital generiertes und futuristisch fliegendes Auto auf schwarzem Hintergrund.

The Christmas and New Year season was very different this year. , the low-key break left more time to reflect on the past 12 months that have rushed by and what new technologies 2021 might bring the automotive industry, observes Autovista Group’s chief economist Dr Christof Engelskirchen. Let’s keep fingers crossed that by the summer, we will be in a position to enjoy 2021 even more.

1. AWD in BEVS

It is surprising how few of the available battery-electric vehicles (BEV) feature all-wheel drive (AWD), when you consider how much easier it would be to deploy this technology compared to an internal combustion engine (ICE) and even a plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). One electric engine at each of the four wheels seals the deal. It would represent a unique selling point in several segments, and could be leveraged as an argument towards stronger safety, sportiness and versatility. Currently, you would need to spend (far) beyond €50,000 to get your hands on an AWD BEV and your choice would be limited to: Audi E-tron, E-tron Sportback, Jaguar I-Pace, Mercedes EQC, Porsche Taycan, Tesla Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Volvo XC40 recharge pure electric. That will change this year with the Skoda Enyaq, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Polestar 2 hitting the stage and a wave of AWD BEV-launches from Audi, Mercedes and Hyundai. Although it might be 2022 until you will get your hands on your preferred model.

2. Increased BEV ranges

I vividly remember 2009 when we were bombarded with arguments that the vast majority of daily trips can easily be done with a BEV and that we need to educate people about this to address the concerns around range anxiety. There is a good summary of research on the topic of average length of daily trips for various regions in Europe and by type of fleet (see table below).  

Fleet shares per intervals of daily travelled distances

Flottenanteile pro Intervall der täglich zurückgelegten Strecken

Source: Elsevier, – Case Studies on Transport Policy 6 (2018)

Nevertheless, range anxiety continues to represent an issue for a majority of people not wanting to give up the greater than 500km and more range that comes with every ICE car. People underestimated the importance of offering flexibility and a variety of applications, when consumers choose an appropriate vehicle. For example, SUVs consume more fuel/energy due to their body style than a saloon, estate or hatchback. Yet, people buy an SUV as they overcompensate that fact with versatility: they are considered stylish, offer higher seating position, increase perceived safety and they work in an elegant setting as well as at the home improvement retailer or garden centre.

3. Touchscreen only

Admittedly, I was not the first to jump on board the iPhone train as they became popular. Writing an email on a touchscreen was a big nuisance for me. Thankfully, the wide variety of use cases and innovations that a screen, in combination with an Android or iOS operating systems, more than compensated for this. The touchscreen-only devices are at a point of no return.  However, there is a notably significant level of safety concern when operating a touchscreen while driving a vehicle. It is also not so easy to hit the right button when you get no tactile feedback. Nevertheless, the transition to touchscreen only, with some buttons remaining on the steering wheel and a turning wheel to hold onto, are unlikely to be reversed. Most recent user interfaces allow for natural-voice command recognition, which will help pave the way for the touchscreen-only car in 2021. One of the more recent announcements around touchscreen technology is the MBUX Hyperscreen from Daimler, announced on 7 January and showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year.

4. Fully online-enabled car purchase

When I did all my Christmas shopping online this year, comparing prices and features across multiple sites, I remembered how different the car-buying experience was when we looked for a car privately two years ago. We needed to sell our used car and tried to cross-shop for the right full-service leasing offer for a second vehicle in the household. It involved a fair amount of physical presence at dealerships and applying unnerving haggling techniques, knowing the professional on the other side felt as equally annoyed as we did. Would it not be nice to take all of this out of the equation? 2021 is the chance and we are up for a new leasing contract towards the end of the year. I am looking forward to a more user-friendly and online-enabled shopping experience.

5. Flexible-ownership models

A more digitally enabled sales-and-marketing value chain, along with customer openness to shopping online, has invited new formats, brands and players to the market. ONTO, for example is a car-subscription provider for electric vehicles. PIVOTAL is Jaguar Land Rover’s car subscription brand. Volvo offers Volvo Care as a car-subscription business model and Lynk & Co wants to offer vehicle access through a monthly-membership fee-based model. I could mention many more OEMs that are very active in this area as well as start-ups, leasing and rental companies that offer more flexible-ownership models. What they have in common is that they will produce more younger, higher-value used cars than ever before. We expect that the number of young used-car transactions will rise by 55% between 2019 and 2030.

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