Today’s cars are evolving rapidly from being boxes meant for transportation of people and cargo to smart and efficient vehicles. So here is my list of the five big, long-term automotive engineering trends that are going to fundamentally change our outlooks on the kinds of cars we’ll drive tomorrow. I will be ranking them on the basis of their current and long-term impact, their benefit to the manufacturer and the consumer and for how long they may potentially continue.
5. Efficient Engines
The general consensus among the automotive community half a decade ago was that the internal combustion engine is dying. We had soaring fuel prices (Does anyone remember the days of 110+ Rupees/Liter of Petrol?) and the arrival of successful electrified cars like the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and the Nissan Leaf. However, the engine soldiered on thanks to a wave of new technologies like Turbocharging, Direct Injection, Computerized Variable Valve Timing, Auto Start-Stop (Better known here as Eco-Idle), High Compression Ratios, Atkinson Cycle Layouts and the list goes on and on. Despite attaining maturity a while ago, the amount of modernization the internal combustion has been through is incredible and the future still has a lot in store with Mazda’s SkyAktiv-X compression ignition engines, Achates Power’s Opposed Piston Engine which claim up to 45% thermal efficiency, compared to 25% for a normal engine and Mazda’s experiments with variable compression ratios offer an enticing proposition for the internal combustion engine of tomorrow. It safe to say that I don’t see this trend of modernizing the engine stopping anytime soon. It however stays at the bottom of my list as the future does look not as bright for the combustion engine as it does for the rest of the trends on feature today.
4. Electric Vehicles
Battery electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles are undoubtedly the future. Their simplicity, efficiency, Eco-friendliness and complete lack of complex mechanical parts will appeal to both manufactures and consumer alike. In the 2017 Electric Vehicle Outlook Report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, it was stated: “Tumbling battery prices mean that EVs will have lower lifetime costs, and will be cheaper to buy, than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in most countries by 2025.“ I still ranked them fairly low because they remain a tiny fraction of total car sales today. That may not change until we have a major breakthrough in battery technology that solves the two biggest issues associated with electric cars; charging times and range. With that being said I firmly believe that widespread EV adoption may take place as soon as 2040 and apparently so does Bloomberg and that will signal the end of an era.
Just like pretty much everything in the 21st century, your car is also connected to the vast Internet of Things (IoT). Whether it is Apple Carplay, Android Auto or 4G LTE services in the infotainment system, inexpensive OBDII dongles to monitor vehicle statistics or remote access from a smartphone app, connectivity is going to be a game changer. Many cars today allow you to locate them remotely, start the engine and even set the climate control all from a smartphone app. DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communication) and IEE 802.11V are allowing new ways for vehicle-to-vehicle communication and to collect data for insurance or ride share programs. In many ways, the cars of tomorrow are going to be the richest data probes in your life and if that makes you feel insecure, you can always drive a Suzuki Mehran.
2. Driver Assistance and Autonomy
Autonomous driving is an emerging mega-trend that will radically reshape the logic of how we approach cars, impact the number of road fatalities and give way to many other services like ride sharing and car sharing programs. Driver assistance in the form of adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure prevention in today’s semi-autonomous driving programs like Cadillac’s Super Cruise, Nissan ProPilot Assist, Volvo Pilot Assist, Toyota Safety Sense P, Honda Sensing, BMW DriveAssist and Tesla Autopilot all aim to make driving safe and secure. These driver assistance programs will eventually evolve into full autonomy and will change the very nature of how we approach cars It may make people less interested in owning cars in favour of ridesharing programs like Uber. It may negatively impact manufacturers like Bugatti, Ferrari and Lamborghini whose entire existence is based on the driving pleasure. This may be the trend that most impacts how we see the cars of the future. The recent fatal crash of a 49-Year old pedestrian with an autonomous Uber SUV may have left many people skeptical about the prospects of self-driving cars. However, any objective person who has seen the footage of the crash cannot argue; the crash was simply unavoidable. Even if there was a human operating the vehicle, there is no way he/she could have reacted fast enough to the vehicle to stop before impact.
1. Making Cars Lighter
My number one engineering trend for today and tomorrow has undoubtedly surprised you all. But saving weight is everything. When a car is lighter, it accelerates better, gets better fuel economy and a result has lower emissions, handles and corners more elegantly, brakes more quickly and puts less wear on its own parts like shocks, engine mounts, suspension components and tires. All high-performance cars today aim to weigh less using remarkable new materials like carbon fiber and aluminium alloys etc. Or using CAD to design parts that weigh less, perform better and are stronger at the same time. For context, the hypercars of today like the Lamborghini Aventador SV, Bugatti Chiron, La Ferrari and McLaren P1 all make extensive use of weight-saving techniques like using Aluminium sub-frames and carbon-fiber passenger cells. Saving weight truly is the holy grail in car design and will remain so as long as cars exist.
So this is my list of the top five automotive trends I see going forward in the future. Do you agree with my list? Or do you have any other trends that you would like to see on this list? Feel free to leave your opinions and constructive criticism in the comments below.