www.rdmag.com WINTER 2017 R&DMagazine 19
The global automotive industry is in the throes of the largest technological changes in more than 100 years. Vehicles are evolving from fuel-efficient
hybrid systems to full electric systems. Simple driver-assist
technologies are evolving to fully autonomous driving
systems. Digital audio entertainment systems are evolving
to fully Internet-compliant systems. And trucks are evolving from mostly steel-alloy structures to lighter weight
aluminum and composite structures. All of these changes
are occurring simultaneously and will require considerable
R&D efforts in 2017 and well into the 2020s.
To accommodate these changes, an analysis by R&D
Magazine of the automotive industry reveals that global
R&D investments will increase by 1.6% in 2017 to $98.2
billion, while the U.S. component of those investments are
projected to increase by 3.9% to $42.2 billion in 2017.
Not included in these R&D investments are the
infrastructure changes that will need to be implemented
to support these changes. There is a modicum of public
charging stations created in the U.S. for Tesla vehicles,
but many more will need to be installed for the additional
electric vehicles being planned for over the next five years.
The U.S. is behind other countries in this regard—Japan,
for example, now has more electric charge points than
Standardizing the plug configurations for these charge
points may also be needed—European
charge points can accommodate up to 12
different configurations. A more reliable
communications infrastructure may also
need to be developed/installed in current
“blackout” areas to ensure the safety of autonomous vehicles currently being planned
to be on the road within the next four
years. A full parts/service infrastructure
and training program/system will also need
to be developed for electric vehicles in addition to those within the dealer networks.
Other R&D programs that will need
to be developed and implemented include
electric vehicle diagnostics; similar diagnostic systems for autonomous vehicles;
charging station monitoring/communication
systems; user-friendly web-based systems
for accessing local charging stations and
their status (some public sites already exist
for charging site locations, but lack real-time details); and an adequate real-time
infrastructure for parts and installation
One of the concerns that automobile
Change is Coming in Automotive R&D
manufacturers are just becoming aware of is that in the future they will have to simultaneously supply a new mix of
vehicles—traditional, autonomous, gas driven and electric
driven—and provide the R&D and production resources to
keep all of them relatively current. But the manufacturers
cannot afford to dramatically increase their R&D spending, so they will have to prioritize and judiciously manage
their design efforts.
The development of these dramatically changed vehicle formats is a long-term exercise. It has been estimated
that even if electric vehicles were fully available by 2030,
it would take more than 30 years to fully integrate them
into the global fleet based on consumer purchasing patterns and the vast number of vehicles currently in use.
Most global manufacturers are in various stages of
creating the technologies needed for autonomously
driven vehicles with many performing extensive field
testing. These companies have established collaborations
with smaller firms with the expertise they need to create
smart, Internet-connected vehicles with intelligent sensing systems. Ford and Volvo, for example, have already
committed to fielding autonomous vehicles by 2021. Some
of these autonomous vehicles could be dedicated to urban
transport systems, such as those operated by the uber and
lyft systems currently in place in most cities.
2015 Global 2015 U.S. 2016 Global 2016 U.S. 2017 Global 2017 U.S.
U.S.$ billions Automotive R&D Spending