The automotive industry is going through an exciting phase steered by new technologies and regulations. The increasing pressure from across the world to curb global warming and reduce the dependence on fossil fuels is driving change within the automotive sector in recent times. 

As we see significant progress in the electric vehicle space, the number of electric vehicles is growing in numbers around the world. It is predicted that around 20% of all cars sold in the world will be electric [1]. This number is expected to double by 2030 powered by the climate change measures in different parts of the globe. 

With the introduction of self-driving cars by a host of next-generation auto companies including Elon Musk’s Tesla, Uber, Cruise, and more, it is safe to say that a new chapter of the automotive industry has begun. 

So are we going to see more and more machine learning and AI-powered cars in the upcoming years? Will humans take the back seat and wave goodbye to steer a car manually in the future?

While that is a probable scenario, it would take a considerable amount of time before that happens. 

So what does the future of the automotive industry look like? 

In this article, we will explore a few ongoing trends and what the future holds for the auto sector. 

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The future is electric

We are not very far away from a future where electric cars will outnumber vehicles that rely on conventional combustion engines. 

By 2040, a majority of commercial and personal vehicles will be electrified in one way or another. Besides, an engine would no longer be the primary reason for the vehicle to function, as its role would be to support an electric motor. 

Engine sizes are likely to go down, fueled by an electrical boost system that is tipped to redefine the concept of high efficiency. 

In the current scenario, around 25-30% of the fuel used by an engine actually converts into power. There are several ideas floating around revolving around heat energy which is typically wasted via the cooling and exhaust system. 

Experts are confident that traditional four-stroke engines seen in today’s cars will not be deployed after a couple of decades. Besides, we will also have a lot of hybrid engines that are between diesel and petrol engines. 

When it comes to technical opportunities, there are plenty of them that are yet to be explored. 

Will hydrogen power be a success?

Over the past couple of decades, there has been a lot of talk around hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). These electric cars are slated to have more range than electric cars and come with no tailpipe emissions apart from that required for water and heat. 

However, what are the chances of hydrogen-powered vehicles becoming mainstream?

As of now, it is estimated that it would take at least around a decade and a half to address the challenges that come with hydrogen power. We are likely to see a lot of hydrogen fuel cell cars by 2040. Time will tell whether or not these vehicles will have an upper hand over electric cars in a couple of decades. 

David Hart, Sustainable Energy Consultant at E4 Tech says that if the hydrogen infrastructure business model can address the existing bottlenecks and if automotive players concentrate additional efforts, we could see a lot of FCEVs in the near future. 

According to him, some of the leading players in this space include Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. A lot of manufacturers are responding to this trend by building smart factories that are driven by AI-powered machinery and infrastructure. 

As of now, and even in the future, building hydrogen filling stations will pose a major challenge. While it is difficult to scale up hydrogen infrastructure, once it is in place, it turns into a profitable business. In that regard, recharging stations for electric vehicles do not turn profitable as operational costs are higher than the cost of energy that is being sold. 

In recent years, investments in the hydrogen-powered automotive space have seen impressive growth, and we expect the trend to continue in the future. 

Diesel vs petrol? What will you be filling in your vehicle?

Woman filling petrol at a gas station

Around 10-15 years back, there were warning signs coming from the oil industry that extraction would become very expensive in some parts of the world as they are on the verge of drying up. 

A lot has changed since. 

According to BP, it is much cheaper to extract fossil fuels than ever before. BP estimates that there are nearly 4.8 trillion barrels of ‘oil equivalent’ energy that can be recovered using the technology we have in place today. 

Besides, an additional 2.7 trillion barrels could be available via enhanced technologies and new innovations. 

BP is of the opinion that we are not likely to witness a major uptake of new technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells immediately. One major reason for that it is that the global energy demand for transport till 2035 and beyond will primarily be met by liquid fuels. 

A lot of alternative sources of energy including Brazilian sugarcane ethanol and synthetic liquid fuel derived from natural gas offer significant promise. However, industry experts are of the opinion that biomass has tremendous potential and could emerge as a sustainable alternative energy source. 

Final words

Long exposure scene of the traffic

We can go on and on about what the future holds for cars as there is so much happening in the automotive industry.

New innovations, technologies, and cutting-edge inventions have already sown the seeds for a brighter future in the auto sector. However, to create a sustainable future with some of the most technologically advanced cars on the roads, governments, policymakers, and auto players need to come together and work on a greener future.

We are likely to see more and more electric vehicles on roads in the near future followed by vehicles powered by hydrogen. 

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[1] (2021) “The Future of Electric Cars” Wilsons [online] [accessed March 2022]