That the ground is shifting beneath the auto industry is clear.
The rate of change, however, appears to have caught everyone by surprise.
The diesel scandal, and the success of Tesla, has led to a rush to develop electric cars. As traditional manufacturers race to catch up, they’re also faced with a move towards autonomy, and, in the nearer future, a case of the car becoming the largest communications ‘device’ – albeit one with wheels – rather than just a machine to get you from A-to-B.
The biggest indication of this shift on-ground has been the fact that the Detroit Auto Show appears to be losing out – and fast – to the Consumer Electronics Show, which is held in Las Vegas around the same time, as the preeminent auto show in North America. Just to be clear, CES isn’t a ‘motor show’!
This turmoil appears to be turning old foes into partners, as fierce competitors forge alliances to develop the next generation of products. It appears to be too big a task to accomplish alone, and requires the collaborative effort of R&D folks from around the globe. Closer to home, Ford and Mahindra have announced that they will further strengthen their alliance (formed initially in 2017) to develop compact SUVs, small EVs, and connected-car solutions.
Maruti Suzuki and Toyota, meanwhile, have announced a fresh agreement to co-brand some of their popular models. Maruti will be getting the Corolla, while Toyota will be putting their badge on the nose of slightly modified versions of the Vitara Brezza compact SUV and Baleno hatchback. Additionally, the two firms are looking at how they can introduce EVs in India in the future. So, Toyota widens its net in the Indian market – which has, thus far, been quite limited despite previous attempts to go mainstream (read: Etios) – and Maruti gets to climb up the value chain, while also getting access to hybrid and EV technology.
There’s a sense that the Japanese government is encouraging consolidation within the industry, perhaps as a way to counter the ever-growing threat by the Chinese – who have bet very aggressively on EV technology over the past several years, while the Japanese manufacturers (Toyota and Honda) have kept one eye on Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles as well. The key to the success of fuel cells will be the rollout of a hydrogen filling station infrastructure, which isn’t exactly imminent at present.
Mahindra, meanwhile, is also priming legendary Italian design house Pininfarina – owned by the Indian firm – to become a full-fledged high-performance EV manufacturer. So, Tesla, it seems, has spawned a great number of very serious competitors. Good thing for all of them, then, that the American EV upstart is struggling to get production of its high volume product, the Model 3, off the ground. It gives them all a little more breathing room to get their various alliances and new product ranges off to a running start…