Emerging Trends Drive Auto Industry to Shift Gears

Posted On September 26, 2018 By Protolabs

The buzz in the auto industry these days is mostly over topics such as the dramatic decline in sales of sedans in favor of SUVs and giant pickup trucks (Ford recently announced it will phase out sedans completely), and the continuing development of autonomous or self-driving cars.

Beyond those headline-grabbing items, we’ve been noticing some other intriguing trends that, quietly, under the radar, have been emerging in the automotive sector. As suppliers to OEMs and others in the auto industry, we think these trends are worth noting.

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Some industry experts speculate that major car manufacturers will explore contract manufacturing for tech companies like Apple and Uber, for example. Photo courtesy: Fortune.com
Carmakers as Contract Manufacturers?

One concept, recently reported by Arstechnica.com, wonders whether iPhone-style contract manufacturing could eventually come to the auto industry.

It would make sense if traditional carmakers like Ford, General Motors, and  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) could be hired to build or assemble cars conceived by vendors like Apple, Uber, and Waymo/Google, said Bryan Reimer, a research scientist in MIT’s AgeLab and associate director of The New England Transportation Center at MIT.

In fact, Reimer said, the concept of OEMs offering contract manufacturing services is already happening on a limited basis. FCA is supplying the platform for Waymo’s fleet of autonomous vehicles—62,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans were ordered by Waymo for its autonomous ride-hailing service. In other words, as the article muses, it seems that building cars is a lot harder than designing them.

3D Printing’s Impact on Auto Manufacturing

While the auto industry is growing, environmental and economic challenges are pushing this sector to rethink the way it functions. Carmakers are looking at different ways to improve production without compromising quality and, at the same time, keeping costs and waste down.

As a 3DP industry blog recently reported, “Among the various technologies being explored in this regard (by the auto industry), 3D printing technology has caught the attention of industry leaders.” The article states that 3DP (additive manufacturing) “is revolutionizing” the auto industry by:

  • Providing a fast and inexpensive method of prototyping
  • Personalizing cars through custom-fitted parts
  • Helping to restore vintage car models
  • Improving supply chain management
Automotive Electronics Sector Continues to Surge

According to some industry estimates, more than 40 percent of the on-board mechanisms in a vehicle are now based on electronics and that percentage is likely to rise with further innovations and product development.

With this statistic in mind, it makes sense that, within the auto industry, the automotive electronics sector is soaring. The entertainment application piece alone is anticipated to generate more than $80 billion by 2024. Consider the consumer spending on entertainment systems including MP3 players, rear-seat entertainment, navigational services, satellite radio, and other communication functions that will likely contribute to this automotive electronics market growth. Then add on technological developments such as electrical active suspensions, power trains for electric vehicles, driver assistance systems, and so on.

Lightweighting Remains Key

Even though the Trump administration is considering freezing or rolling back some fuel-efficiency requirements, most in the auto industry see these regulatory policies continuing in some form. Hence, the use of materials for lightweighting in cars—such as aluminum, high-strength steel, and magnesium, which have high strength-to-weight ratio—will continue. Carmakers’ focus in this area will be on lessening a vehicle’s load and using different lightweight materials for applications in making parts, such as plastic for windshields, carbon fiber for chassis, and aluminum foam for bumpers.

Industry Spotlight is a regular look at manufacturing trends in segments such as automotive, consumer electronics, medical/health care, and aerospace.