10 Trends Driving The Automotive Industry

By: Jack Sackman

Autumn is fast approaching and that means that the 2017 model year cars will soon be at dealerships all over town. And you can bet that the newest cars will contain certain features and characteristics that reflect the trends now driving the automotive industry. Of course, trends come and go, but right now there are certain trends that are universal across vehicle manufacturers and likely to influence the cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles we drive well into the future. Here are the 10 trends driving the automotive industry right now, and that you are likely to see at a dealership near you.


10. Size

The average car built in 2016 was three inches smaller than the same model built in 2005, and nearly six inches smaller than the one built in 1995. While that might not seem like a lot, try taking half a foot of leg room out of the back seat of your car and you get an idea of what it means in terms of room and comfort. Manufacturers say they are able to make vehicles smaller today mainly because the engines today can deliver the same amount of horsepower in less cubic inches. However, most vehicle makes and models have been nipped and tucked all over, and automotive companies continue to squeeze space wherever they can. What’s interesting is that the shrinkage is happening across all makes, models and brands – cars, trucks, minivans, SUVs, you name it. And with younger consumers preferring compact and even subcompact cars, the mantra of “smaller is better” seems here to stay. Mini anyone?

9. Connectivity

People like to stay connected all the time – even when they’re driving. And automakers are responding by making their vehicles more and more connected and offering more advanced infotainment systems. From Bluetooth connectivity, voice activated phone dialing and surround sound speakers, to voice activated e-mail and dictation, cars today enable people to remain connected and communicate even while driving. More and more vehicles are coming with connectivity systems and devices built in as standard features. Soon, it will be difficult to find a car that does not have infotainment and internet and phone connections built right in. The main reason is that younger drivers, who push these trends, are demanding the ability to keep in touch while on the move.

8. Sharing

We’re in the Uber age now, and that means that sharing rides is front-and-center for the auto industry. Not only are more and more people relying on Uber to get around, but hipsters in urban areas are also using local ride share programs, renting cars for short periods of time and moving more to leasing vehicles rather than owning them outright. Basically, people only want a car when they need one and discard them afterwards. What does this mean for the automotive industry? It means a trend towards more fuel efficient compact and subcompact cars that are better for city driving and a move away from larger and less fuel efficient suburban-centric minivans, SUVs and other gas guzzling vehicles. It also means a greater focus on newer model vehicles that can be turned over on leases and less of a market for used vehicles and a dwindling resale market.

7. Biometrics

Opening your car door with a fingerprint and starting the engine with a retinal scanner are real technologies today, and they are only growing in popularity with auto companies. Going forward, people can expect that they’ll be using their unique and individual body parts to operate their vehicle rather than having to rely on car keys. That means the days of losing your car keys will be over and instead people can rely on always being able to open and start their vehicle. While some consumer groups and privacy watchdogs balk at the notion of people allowing automakers to scan their fingerprints and eyeballs, the trend to biometric identifiers in vehicles is one that is real and spreading. There are even some cars being developed that will monitor their driver’s vital signs as they operate a vehicle. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.


6. A.I.

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is the norm in cars today and will continue becoming more pronounced in the future. From active park assist to adaptive cruise control and lane departure warnings, A.I. can be found in most new cars made today. So much so that consumers today expect it when they buy a new vehicle. In the near future, people will likely look back on the time when vehicles didn’t have a bevy of A.I. in them as the automotive stone age. And vehicle manufacturers are looking at new ways to add more A.I. to vehicles all the time. From the features that help to operate a vehicle to the interior controls that enable people to make phone calls, send e-mails and detect pedestrians coming that they can’t yet see with their naked eye. A.I. is taking vehicles into the future. And it’s happening now.

5. Seniors

At a certain point, everyone becomes too old to drive. Seniors often find that they can no longer see or hear well enough to safely operate a motor vehicle. Many elderly drivers find the strength and coordination needed to maneuver a vehicle too much for them to handle as they get older. However, thanks to technology, seniors are happily finding that they are able to continue driving longer than ever before. Blind spot alerts, rear view cameras and lane departure warnings are combining to make it easier for the elderly to drive. Many seniors don’t even need to turn their heads around any longer when driving. While these features make driving easier for people of all ages, they are making it particularly better for people who are advancing in age. And the longer people drive cars, the better for the automotive industry.

4. Minimalism

As far as car interiors go, the trend driving the industry today is one of minimalism. Complicated knobs and buttons have given way to streamlined interiors in muted colours and simple touchscreen monitors and screens. It’s like we’ve gone from the consoles in the original Star Trek television show to the consoles in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Add in heated seats, climate zones, and noise cancelling interiors and it’s like the insides of our cars have become modern Zen gardens. This trend reflects consumers desire to use their cars as de facto decompression chambers where they destress from the day and relax on their way home from the office and before seeing their families. Given the hectic pace of modern life, this is a trend you can bet is going to continue.

3. Customization

Drivers today are able to customize the vehicle they buy to the point where they can literally take away features they don’t need. For example, Ford allows people to remove items such as the RPM display from their dashboard, if they find it is not of interest to them. Instead, they can customize the dash to show them items they do use and want to pay attention to such as fuel economy and the engine performance. Customization is much more today than choosing the paint colour and whether you want to pay extra for a sunroof. Today, customization involves everything from the display to the type of brake pads and rotors used in the car. Going forward, cars are expected to become more like houses where people can literally build them from the ground up and choose not just cosmetic items but the mechanical components too.

2. Automation

The drive to develop fully autonomous, self-driving cars has been likened to the quest for the Holy Grail by some automotive analysts. And this, indeed, is where the industry is heading. As mentioned, more artificial intelligence is being added to vehicles all the time and several companies, notably Tesla and Google are in the process of pioneering and fine tuning cars that have the ability to completely drive themselves while the occupants simply sit back and enjoy the ride. To be sure, a lot has to happen yet before we are in a world where most of the vehicles on the road are self-driving and communicating to one another without disturbing the human occupants. But this is a trend that is very real and likely to continue. Most analysts feel that there is no going back and that now that Pandora’s Box has been opened, we are unlikely to close it.


1. Electricity

Even more than the race to create self-driving cars is the focus on building cars that run completely on electricity. Moving beyond gas-electric hybrid models to all-electric cars has been ongoing for more than a decade now. However, the transition hasn’t been smooth – owing mostly to the fact that most electric cars have, to date, had limited range, expensive batteries, and there has been a lack of places to recharge them. Plus, the cost to own and operate an electric car has been prohibitive. All that promises to change in coming years as companies such as Tesla create innovative electric cars that are stylish, elegant, and capable of traveling farther distances on a single charge, with less expensive batteries. Most automotive manufacturers around the world have some form of electric car in development, and industry experts foresee a time in the not too distant future when electric cars are the norm, replacing the fossil fuel powered vehicles we drive today. The key, as Tesla and other engineers have confirmed, is to make an attractive, affordable vehicle that can literally go the distance.