Beginning with the global economic crisis of 2008, automakers began to take stock in what they had to offer and how they could survive for the long term. General Motors and Chrysler went bankrupt, restructured and are far different companies than they were just a few years ago. Ford decided to internationalize its fleet, building and selling similar models in all markets under its "One Ford" plan.
The changes realized in the past few years portend to even greater movement in the coming months and years. We're tracking all of the latest auto trends and our forecast includes the following notables:
Global Mergers -- China is the new top dog in automotive world, with consumers there buying more cars annually than in the U.S., the former global leader. China's automotive manufacturing industry is still young and no cars are currently built in China and sold in the U.S. Expect that to change as Chinese companies snap up foreign manufacturers or at least expand their current manufacturing relationships in order to get Chinese products throughout the world.
More Hybrids -- Electric vehicles are getting plenty of press, but these cars are not notable sellers. Hybrids, which have gone through more than a decade of refinement, will grow in leaps and bounds as manufacturers figure out ways to cut and share costs, driving down the price of these vehicles within reach of most buyers. Look for hybrids to appear in a greater variety of vehicles and in non-traditional forms such as with Buick's eAssist technology, offering "partial" but effective hybridization.
Diesel Effectiveness -- The Ford Motor Company has figured out a way to squeeze even more mileage out of its diesel engines, promising that its European Ford Focus will get 80 mpg on the highway when it goes on sale in 2012. That vehicle will set off a race by manufacturers to upgrade technology, producing new diesels offering rock solid performance, excellent fuel efficiency and very few pollutants. Americans will finally embrace diesels by 2015, taking a significant chunk of business away from gas only models.
Advancing Technology -- We take for granted Bluetooth, collision avoidance systems and traction control, features not available in most cars until recently. The technology march continues and includes significant auto trends such as driverless cars, full mobile WI-FI and renewable features including seats, dashboards and floors. Indeed, most cars built in 2020 will be nearly fully recyclable -- not because of government mandate, but because manufacturers realize the importance of reducing what goes to landfills.
Global economic concerns will loom large in the years ahead as earthquakes in diverse places, political unrest, limited resources and environmental concerns weigh in. If not outright mergers, many companies will work together, sharing platforms, engines, transmissions and important components to keep costs down and to keep each company afloat.