In past years, the goal of the automotive industry was to build bigger, faster and more powerful vehicles. That's changing in the twenty-first century, as the concern of consumers, governments, and industries is moving to increased efficiency and reduced emissions, especially in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
However, make no mistake: Horsepower is still important. Modern engines are capable of putting out massive power, and the numbers are increasing (the Bugatti Veyron, for example, has over 1000 hp). But the question is becoming one of power density, or the need to build smaller, more efficient engines capable of increased power. That's one of the roles of lubricants going forward. High-quality synthetic oil can enable manufacturers to decrease the size of the oil sump required for the engine, run the engine at hotter temperatures and use turbochargers as well.
As cars move toward using alternative fuels, synthetic oil makers are shifting their scope. Electric vehicles, for example, might not need motor oil, but they come with lubricated bearings and any gearboxes would also need to be lubed. Even the power plant that generates the electricity that charges the vehicles will need industrial-grade synthetic oils for the moving parts of its machinery.
As the government mandates emissions improvements, oil manufacturers will have make significant investments to implement the necessary changes -- to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in research and testing. However, even as the future of the automotive industry remains a bit of a mystery, the future of synthetic oils seems assured.