It’s an interesting time in the auto industry: Pressures of climate change and stricter carbon emissions regulations are pushing automakers to make more hybrid and electric vehicles, along with better conventional engines and even fuel cell powertrains.
The development of self-driving cars could fundamentally change the industry, and concepts like the Toyota FV2 look nothing like the cars we have today.
But things change slowly in an industry that needs about seven years to go from the first sketch of a car to its arrival on the market, that has been dominated by a single technology — the internal combustion engine — for nearly a century, and that is governed by countless regulations that differ from one country to the next.
To get a picture of the future, we asked half a dozen top industry executives for their predictions of what American roads will look like in the year 2030.
Their answers varied, but a common theme emerged: It turns out things won’t change too much in the next 15-20 years, and the biggest changes will most likely affect our cities.
The Rise Of EVs (Maybe)
Engines have gotten much more efficient in recent years — even Porsche is moving toward more 4-cylinder engines instead of V8s — and that takes some pressure of automakers to find new ways to lower fuel consumption.
“There will be alternative powertrains to a much greater degree than today,” Joe Eberhardt, president of Jaguar Land Rover North America said. But electric vehicles probably won’t be predominant, largely because current engine technology is so entrenched. “The internal combustion engine still has so many advantages from an overall energy perspective, especially if you look at how we produce electricity in the United States,” Eberhardt said.
It’s worth noting that Jaguar Land Rover doesn’t produce any EVs. Jose Munoz, executive vice president of Nissan, which does make EVs, had a different take, saying, “we see in the future a significant increase on electric vehicle technology.” Nissan has already increased production capacity to meet growing demand, he said.
Jacob Harb, BMW North America’s head of EV Operations and Strategy, has good reason to be bullish on the rise of electric driving (the automaker just unveiled its all-electric i3). But he cautioned that the status quo will be hard to displace: “Just given how established the infrastructure is, it will be hard to change it,” Harb said.
He did predict the growth of car-sharing programs and the charging infrastructure needed to make owning an electric car practical.
City driving will change before highway driving, Ludwig Willisch, president and CEO of BMW North America, told us. “We will have more of these restrictions of driving with internal combustion engines in city areas, whereas I think if you’re making your way through Death Valley, it will still be with an internal combustion engine,” he said.
Michael Bartsch, Vice President of Infiniti Americas, struck a similar note, but in reference to self-driving vehicles, which he predicted will “dominate” cities by 2025. “The U.S. highways won’t change much in 20 years time,” he said. A drive from Nashville to Atlanta, for example, will be pretty much the same as it is today, he said, adding, “what I do expect is when I come to New York, that you will see a very different automotive landscape.”
However, the “fundamental notion of personal, independent transport will not go away,” Bartsch said. “It’s simply a question of what is the definition of personal independent transport.”
And Jaguar Land Rover’s Eberhardt pointed out that whatever changes do or don’t happen, it’s a great time to be working in cars. New powertrains, fresh designs, and self-driving technologies are making “the auto industry cool again,” he said. They have brought back the “wow factor.”
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