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Seven things to watch in Automotive in 2020

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The automotive industry, once slow to evolve, is now characterised by an explosion of new ideas, technologies and business models, with the UK market further complicated by political uncertainty that could be over (or even more labyrinthine) by the time you read this.

Nonetheless, we think 2020 will be a big year for all automotive markets, so we thought we’d round out our 2019 blogging by asking some of our team about the trends and players they’ll be keeping an eye on in 2020. Their thoughts are below. Thanks for visiting our blog this year, we’ve enjoyed sharing our thoughts with you. Have a happy and successful 2020.

Politics: a clearer vision, please!

By the time this blog goes live we’ll know what sort of government we’re going to get, but whether that will quickly bring about the clarification our industry needs is anyone’s guess. Regardless of your politics, a sense of what trade environment we’ll be inhabiting will be a much-needed tonic for the industry. Three years of equivocation has done nobody any favours; manufacturers have been holding back on investment and the best we can hope for is that the election and its aftermath will enable businesses to plan, regardless of whether the news is good, bad or indifferent for industry.  

– Nick Gerrell

Formula One: Honda Red Bull challenging the established order

The G&H team is hugely proud of its relationship with Honda so we’re all delighted that Red Bull has had such a great 2019. Max Verstappen’s win in Brazil gave Honda a one-two as Toro Rosso took a brilliant and unexpected second place. Honda is signed up as engine supplier to Red Bull and Toro Rosso until at least the end of 2021, so I’m keen to see how closely the teams can challenge Mercedes and Ferrari next year.  

– Nick Gerrell

Electric dreams

I’m thrilled to see an impressive range of electric vehicles (EVs) coming onto the market next year. The cool Honda e smart car has loads going for it and I think it will be popular, while the Polestar 2 could have a sizeable impact on the European market. It’s an exciting vehicle with a business model for the times: it can be configured and ordered online or via the company’s subscription service, and is a stunning rival to Tesla. The world of old automotive retail has never seemed more remote!

Hyundai has a great EV in the Ionic Electric, with BMW, Mini and plenty more besides all joining in to make 2020 a banner year for EVs. I think 2020 will be the year that sheer proliferation drives EV price points down to where they’re manageable for “average” consumers. This could lead, at last, to the charging infrastructure catching up.

Another brand to watch is American start-up Rivian, which builds electric pick-ups that I love. Amazon has invested heavily into the brand and has ordered 100,000 of its vehicles. Not a bad start!  

Finally, hyper-car lovers should keep an eye out for the Lotus Evija. A couple of the G&H team have seen it and it’s jaw-dropping. Bankrolled by Chinese owners Geely and boasting an insane 2,000 horsepower, it’s going to be on the market for in the region of £1.7 million.  

– Nick Gerrell

Collaboration

I’m fascinated by the collaboration we now see, even between rival OEMs. Our view from the bridge at G&H is that this will happen more frequently as automotive businesses have to combine resources and expertise in order to solve challenges that are bigger than they are.

A case in point: Jaguar Land Rover and BMW’s combining their effort in developing EV tech, working jointly on electric drive units, and pooling some R&D and purchasing resources. In the same vein, the cost of battery development is immense and the process and logistics a nightmare, so suppliers could well play a much bigger part in the battery development. And the multitude of engineered products within connected vehicles – the infotainment, guidance systems and IoT connectivity - is necessarily realised through collaboration. The pace of market changes means businesses don’t have long to develop new technology – they need to outsource to specialists or pool resources.  

– Joel Hard

The true dawn of automation?

In October, Forbes published an article entitled, “Is 2020 the year for Eyes-Off Automated Driving?” In the US in December, a man was charged with reckless driving after his Tesla Model 3, which he put on Autopilot so he could check on his dog in the back seat, crashed into a police car.  The man’s solicitor has argued Tesla’s marketing of its so-called “autopilot” function is misleading, and that drivers rely on it to be autonomous.  Tesla has previously said cars on autopilot are not autonomous and still require drivers to be alert and in control.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) defines six levels of driving automation from 0 (fully manual) to 5 (full automation), where a vehicle performs all driving tasks under any conditions, with no human attention required. SAE Level 2 is partial automation, where a vehicle can perform steering and acceleration, with the driver monitoring tasks and able to take control at any time.

We’re at Level 2 right now – the systems are pretty commonplace today, in brands including BMW, Cadillac, Nissan and Mercedes and many more, requiring drivers to be hands on but including lane-change mode, self-parking and so on.

It’s not until a vehicle reaches level 3 (conditional automation) that the automated system, rather than the driver, truly monitors the driving environment and can manage all aspects of driving, allowing the driver to be hands-off whilst, crucially, on standby and ready to intervene. Audi calls its new A8 a “Level 3-ready”: it can assume control. We expect to see major inroads made in the deployment of SAE Level 3 technology next year, although there’s a lot of legal legwork to be done. 

– Joel Hard

The talent crunch and the skills we need

Even if UK business can get cracking with their global trade strategies after the election, 2020 is going to be challenging for them. We will see a continuation and probably a deepening of mass skill shortages, and a particularly dire need for electrical, controls and software engineers.

I expect to see more transferring of skills from green technology in electric vehicles to aerospace and home energy, thanks to the political pressure on the latter industries to become more sustainable. It’s likely that smaller green tech SMEs will diversify into projects in those fields as well as fulfilling their automotive remit.

The government has invested cash into battery systems and fusion technology, and whatever your stance politically, there’s no question the UK is pretty good at understanding the importance of investment and of becoming a hub of green technology. Tech businesses will increasingly diversify into “fun engineering” innovation projects - serious topics for really technical people – backed by government investment.  

– Paul Frisby

Better candidate experiences

When hiring is buoyant, it’s easy for employers to overlook the candidate experience. Many work hard on this, but I expect to see more employers prioritising it as the market for technical skills tightens.

Employers will increasingly recognise that the way they attract candidates and take them through the interview process will have a significant impact on their competitiveness. The smart employers will also be also be more open-minded about bringing in strong candidates with transferable, relevant skills but different sector experience. I expect the way candidates are perceived and treated to be a significant part of the search for competitive advantage in 2020.  

– Paul Frisby