5 Emerging Trends in Automotive Engineering

According to PRIME research on the World Car of the Year Study in 2014, the 5 key emerging trends in automotive engineering are efficiency, lightweight materials, design, connectivity, and new energy. The same study conducted in 2016 focused on connectivity in cars and the trends that go alongside it including safety, autonomous driving, and smartphone integration.

Let’s delve deeper into each of these specific topics.

Emerging Trends in Automotive Engineering


Based on the previous study, efficiency ranks as the number one trend for cars in 2014. Only about 14-30% of the energy from the fuel in a conventional vehicle is used to move it down the road (depending on the drive cycle).

The remaining energy is lost to engine and driveline inefficiencies used to power accessories. Engine loss accounts for 68% of the loss. This includes loss from the radiator, exhaust heat, combustion, pumping systems, and friction. The power transfer to wheels is the second-biggest loss, which accounts for approximately 20%. This loss is dissipated as wind resistance, rolling resistance, and braking.

Lightweight vehicle sales have been and will continue to show consistent growth in the next decade. These vehicles are a viable solution to the growing need for improved fuel efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Downsizing the engine and the use of lightweight materials in cars are the two primary ways of improving their efficiency.

Downsizing CC’s and Turbocharging

Turbocharged Car EngineFirst, the downsizing of an engine for weight reduction is the most promising method to save weight. Smaller engines require smaller fasteners and lighter driveshafts allow lighter bolts. Having a smaller engine also reduces the need for costly exhaust treatment systems, which may be necessary for bigger engines to meet emission requirements.

Turbochargers are an underappreciated way of improving thermal efficiency in an engine. They are used in all diesel engines and increasingly in gasoline engines to improve engine performance and power train efficiency. Turbochargers are used to compressed the incoming air to the engine, which allows more airflow into the combustion chamber. With more air in the chamber, more fuel can be added, which means that a turbocharged engine delivers more power than a similarly sized, naturally aspirated engine.

Lightweight and Cost-Effective Materials

Next, the use of a lightweight and cost-effective materials is seen as the next step in weight reduction. The current material mix includes plastics, high-strength steel, aluminum, magnesium, glass fiber, and carbon fiber to name a few. The Ford F-150 shifts the image of aluminum from an exclusive material to a more common material for weight saving. The BMW i3 also changed the perception of carbon fiber from an exclusive material to an affordable commodity.


Connectivity becoming a key element in evaluating cars
Connectivity becoming a key element in evaluating cars

Connectivity is ranked 4th in the World Car Emerging Trends 2014. Its importance is also evident in Figure 2 below, which shows that 71% of automotive journalists believe that connectivity is becoming or already is a key element in evaluating a car.

This is further reinforced by a study conducted by Mai & Dirk in 2011, which found that:

  • 75 percent of people between the ages of 20-29 in Germany have a license but less than 45% drive frequently,
  • 80 percent of those people said that they do not want to own a car &
  • 9 out of 10 people 14 to 29 years old in Germany could not imagine a life without a mobile phone but could live without a car.

The people between the ages of 20-29 years old are the current and future buyers of cars. They value having a mobile phone and being connected to the internet more than owning a vehicle. This reinforces the importance of connectivity to the current and future buyers of cars.

New safety features have been the key trend in the field of vehicle connectivity. This includes pre-crash systems, brake assist systems, and blind-spot detection as being the top 3 safety features.  The growth of these safety features is attributed to the rise and increasing popularity of autonomous driving.

Connected Self Driving Cars

Autonomous Driving

Autonomous driving used to be a hated advanced driver assistance feature. However, a steady increase in acceptance since 2013 shows the changed the perspective of autonomous driving into one of the most admired features. Autonomous driving includes several areas such as information and warning systems, assisted driving (hands-free driving), and fully autonomous control of the vehicle. Information and warning systems have been included in cars in the past decades.

This trend is expected to continuously develop over the years. This includes the implementation of vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies which allows pre-emptive braking, blind-spot detection, and several other technologies. These are expected to be implemented in all cars by 2020.

Next, hands-free driving is an emerging feature. This is implemented in adaptive cruise control and even hands-free parking. This is feasible via the use of vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies as mentioned earlier. This feature is also thought to likely be implemented in all cars by 2020. Lastly, full control autonomous driving, where the vehicle drives on its own with limited interaction between the driver and the vehicle, is said to be commonplace in full-size cars and luxury cars by 2020.

Personalized Driving System

In addition to the safety features and autonomous driving, another growing trend is a personalized driving system for each user. Consumers want entertainment systems in their vehicles, remote driver assistance in the event of a car break down, navigation assistance, and communication features. Most of these features are already being introduced by several companies such as Tesla.

Connectivity also encourages the growth of car sharing. Car sharing is where a car or a vehicle is not owned by just one owner, but several people. This allows the car to be used by multiple people in a day to accommodate their needs.

Via car sharing, instead of having 3 cars for 3 people, one car can be used instead. While this is a more efficient use of a vehicle, this idea has not been very successful as of late.

New and renewable energy car

New Energy Cars

Another emerging trend is new energy cars. These include hybrid cars and electric cars. Five years after electric cars have hit the market, they have yet to live up to the most optimistic projections accord to Green Car Reports. One of the key reasons is that the automotive industry is known to be slow to adopt new changes. Besides, the OEMs do not necessarily view these cars as a new product category. Several changes in the market will impact the growth of new-energy cars from now until 2020.

First, the increased range of electric vehicles. The Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle is rated at 200 miles and is set to be in production by the end of this year. This would set a benchmark for the other OEMs such as Nissan and BMW to have a 200-mile electric vehicle. It is expected that the 150-200 mile range becomes the new norm for electric cars priced at $30,000 to $45,000 in the next 3 years.

Next, the increase in popularity and adoption for hybrids. Hybrid cars are new energy cars that do not require you to plug in to charge the battery. They use regenerative braking to convert kinetic energy into electrical energy and charge the battery as they drive. Regenerative braking is used to regain the energy lost during stopping. This energy is used to power the motor. This technology is gaining popularity as gas prices increases. Many drivers do not require to wait around for their vehicles to charge.

Advanced battery development and advancements in energy storage densities contribute to the growth of new energy cars. Chemical composition of cells, new materials for cathode and anodes, improved fabrication processes, and economies of scale will improve the growth of new energy cars. However, this change is slow; Toyota is still using the nickel-metal hydride battery pack it used 20 years ago.


In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, emerging trends will inevitably change and morph as time progresses. It is no longer a question of if changes will happen, but rather when they will occur.

For us car lovers, we must learn just how much the automotive world will change as new advancements are being made every single day. By staying current and in the know, you will have full knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the automotive industry and know just how these changes will affect you soon should you choose to purchase a new car.

Perhaps you’ll be a fervent supporter of electric cars (after all, companies like Tesla are truly rising through the ranks), or perhaps you’ll jump on the autonomous vehicle bandwagon and be willing to step away from the steering wheel from time to time.

Whatever decisions you choose to make, staying up to date with the latest emerging trends will always give you the edge with regards to the well-being of your car, as well as yourself in the future.



Green Car Reports. (2016). Top 6 trends in plug-in electric cars through 2020. Retrieved from greencarreports.com: http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1102160_top-six-trends-in-plug-in-electric-cars-through-2020

Mai, A. M., & Dirk, S. (2011). Connected Vehicles From Building Cars to Selling Personal Travel Time Well-Spent.

PRIME Research. (2014). World Car Trends 2014.

PRIME Research. (2016). World Car Trends 2016.

Schieffer, S. (2014, October 27). Stella Schieffer WordPress Sharing Economy. Retrieved from Stella Shieffer http://stellaschieffer.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/sharing-economy-2050/

Strategy and PWC. (2016). 2016 Auto industry trends. Retrieved from Strategy and PWC.com: http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/perspectives/2016-auto-industry-trends




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