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Which Technologies Will Power Next-Gen Automotive Manufacturing?

With rapidly evolving disruptive manufacturing technologies, such as additive manufacturing and 3D printing, combined with consumer demands for IT in their vehicles, automobile manufacturers must be able to adapt quickly to changing supply and demand needs, and stay ahead of the innovation curve.

For example, Ford Motor Company is studying emerging trends such as the automotive needs of aging drivers, changing attitudes, ergonomic factors, and the huge demand for a variety of technology offerings in vehicles. “To be innovative, the challenge is to imagine a future that hasn’t been imagined,” says Sheryl Connelly, manager of global consumer trends and futuring for Ford Motor Company.


Here are three of the top disruptive technology-driven trends that automotive manufacturers must address in order to stay competitive:


    1. Electrification


Even as the capabilities of electric vehicles continue to expand, and their pricing becomes more affordable, the speed of their adoption will vary strongly at the local level. “Stricter emission regulations, lower battery costs, more widely available charging infrastructure, and increasing consumer acceptance will create new and strong momentum for penetration of electrified vehicles (hybrid, plug-in, battery electric, and fuel cell) in the coming years,” says Paul Gao in a recent article published by McKinsey and Company. “Speed of adoption will be determined by the interaction of consumer pull, partially driven by total cost of ownership, and regulatory push, which will vary strongly at the regional and local level.”


    1. Automated driving


Automated driving features continue to enter the market as robotic technologies and their software systems evolve. For example, a key function that can be automated today is parking. Until Google and Tesla manufacture self-driving cars, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) will continue to take over more functions from drivers. According to McKinsey and Company, the primary challenges to faster market penetration of ADAS are pricing and consumer understanding. Up to 15 percent of new cars sold in 2030 could be fully autonomous, according to Gao. This would offer tremendous advantages, “such as the ability to work while commuting, or the convenience of using social media or watching movies while traveling,” he adds.


    1. Computer/IT connectivity


Advancing these technologies also depends on the integration of the Internet of Things, sensor technologies, wireless capabilities, and increasing complex software to provide reliable connectivity. “Software competence is increasingly becoming one of the most important differentiating factors for the industry, for various domains, including ADAS/active safety, connectivity, and infotainment,” says Gao. “Furthermore, as cars are increasingly integrated into the connected world, automakers will have no choice but to participate in the new mobility ecosystems that emerge as a result of technological and consumer trends.”


How the computerization of vehicles will impact manufacturing


Ultimately cars will become platforms for drivers and passengers to use their time more efficiently, for work or personal activities. The increasing speed of innovation, especially in software-based systems, will also require cars to be upgradable.


A critical challenge, especially with rapid IT innovation, is cybersecurity—which in itself is rapidly advancing to keep up. With stricter regulations and almost daily new threats, manufacturers are taking cybersecurity seriously. “In light of the rapid evolution of cybersecurity technology and threats, auto industry members can expect to devote, or continue to devote, significant resources to cybersecurity issues in 2016,” writes  Louis J. Thorson on Foley and Lardner’s Manufacturing Industry Advisor blog.


Automotive manufacturing, which was once largely considered to be a mechanical process, is increasingly dominated by computer and electrical engineering and software development. “As computers take over more automotive functions, the incursion of sophisticated electronics will further expose the sector to discoveries and trends for both hardware and software, all the way up to artificial intelligence,” writes Marlene Y. Satter in a recent article on


In fact, she wonders, at what point does a car simply become a computer on wheels? “When chipmaker Nvidia is devoting a lot of action to making a supercomputing car a reality, will the manufacturer be an IT company with mobility, or an automaker with IT capabilities?” she asks. “The trend toward vehicle computerization is only just beginning; that means the definition of ‘vehicle’ will change as well.”


Mark Crawford is a Madison, Wisconsin-based  freelance writer who specializes in business, science, technology, and manufacturing.

"To be innovative, the challenge is to imagine a future that hasn’t been imagined."
Sheryl Connelly, Manager of Global Consumer Trends and Futuring

Ford Motor Company

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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