Some experts have recognized the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 as the worst world crisis since WW2. To reduce the spread of the disease, many countries kept their populations quarantined for several months. As a result, the productivity of several industries decreased drastically. Market analysts and automotive industry consulting firms have now started to assess the effect of the pandemic on different industries.
The automotive industry has suffered from low sales during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic predictions for 2020 placed the number of vehicles sold at 90 million worldwide. Now, it is expected that a total of approximately 70 million cars will be sold in 2020 around the world. Sales will fall by 25% in Europe during 2020. Analysts expect similar drops in other continents. Unemployment and economic hardship can explain this drastic reduction in sales.
Long before the pandemic, manufacturers started to find ways to add value to their products. This added value had as an ultimate goal the increase in sales. For example, the use of micro linear actuators enabled the automation of different parts of a vehicle. Automated components made the driving experience more pleasant. Somehow, more people were interested in purchasing this type of vehicle and sales grew.
Would this approach help to boost sales during the post-pandemic years? It seems that some leaders in the automotive industry think so. Despite the reduction in sales, we have witnessed some R&D in the automotive industry during 2020. The trends are clear, electric, and autonomous vehicles. So, let’s review some aspects of these trends that have kept the automotive industry busy during 2020.
Electric Vehicles (EVs)
Hybrid vehicles are already in the market. Fuel-efficient technology has enabled this development. The next step is the development of electric vehicles (EVs). There has been a lot of R&D toward this development. EVs will help to reduce global warming and other problems associated with the burning of fossil fuels. However, for the massive adoption of EVs, the automotive industry must address several challenges, including:
- Short battery life. This is crucial and will determine whether EVs will succeed or not. Currently, batteries for EVs don’t last too long. They need to be frequently recharged;
- Lack of charging infrastructure. We can find a gas station every few miles along the road. Something similar must exist for EVs. Charging stations must be widely available;
- Renewable energy. If the entire world adopts EVs, there will be a tremendous increase in electricity demand. It seems that only renewable energy sources can cope with that demand.
Despite these challenges, the technology for EVs seems to be mature. Hence, the EVs may be massively adopted in the immediate post-pandemic years.
Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)
The year 2020 has seen a lot of R&D toward the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs). This concept has long been present in TV series, movies, and sci-fi. Different levels of autonomy are being considered during development. However, the ultimate goal is the creation of AVs that don’t need a human driver in any situation.
Having AVs would increase road safety since most accidents can be attributed to human causes. The development of AVs requires sophisticated technology such as computer vision, wireless communication, and others. Some startup companies have already created prototypes of AVs. However, the massive commercialization of such vehicles is still far.
Was R&D Well Funded in 2020?
The automotive industry saw its production severely affected by the pandemic. Even manufacturing plants with the capability to continue operating had to stop or reduce their operation. For example, some plants in the United States are nearly fully automated. Hence, they could’ve continued producing vehicles. However, there was a shortage of parts from Mexico, a country that has also been hit hard by the pandemic.
As a result, the development of EVs and AVs has been affected. In most companies, R&D was not regarded as a priority during the pandemic.
What’s for the Future?
Despite all the havoc caused by the pandemic, there is a lot of optimism in the automotive industry. The COVID-19 has changed some perceptions. Now, many people dislike the idea of riding public buses or trains because of the risk of contagion. Hence, some of these people will make efforts to purchase vehicles. This will allow the automotive industry to recover.
Hayley Mann is a technology enthusiast specializing in automation methods of ergonomics devices. Her engineering background helps her to create interesting articles on technical topics, making them understandable for all readers.