And So It Was: The Automotive Year In Review (And what to expect in 2020)

By any standards 2019 was a wonky year. With overall car sales dipping on a global level, mostly because of the erratic politics of a certain great pumpkin in the oval office, the ‐auto industry nevertheless undertook some drastic, fantastic and fascinating turns during the past 365 days.

By Carter Hammett 

 A few of these – interspersed with what to look out for in 2020 – are captured for your viewing pleasure here.

So what can be expected for 2020? Well, for starters, we anticipate the coming year to be intense when it comes to emerging or enhancing automotive technologies which will be used by car companies to upgrade services using these advances. Indeed, more emphasis on customer engagement and interaction seems a sure bet. With innovations like car health tracking and automation in new finance plans, innovations keep coming.

While the jury’s still out on the inevitability of the self-driving car, AI-based systems are expected to have remarkable impact as new cars roll out.

The driving experience will also be enhanced through driver assistance programs and technical components like GPS, Bluetooth and WIFI.

The mechanical sector is shifting its focus to platform-based services with upgrades in electrification and automation at all levels. From an innovation point of view, the industry is well positioned to move forward and move fast.

Those are just a few of the items on our watch list. Let’s have a look at what 2019 offered and what we have to look forward to in 2020. 

The Best Selling Canadian Vehicles In 2019 

2019 was a wonky year by anyone’s standard. In September, Scotiabank reported that, largely because of unpredictable US trade policies there has been a global retrenchment in business activity. This has been reflected in an across-the- board reduction in manufacturing, trade and industrial production around the world. Meanwhile consumer spending in many economies remains constant and this has helped slow the descent in auto sales. Nonetheless, vehicle sales have continued to decline by almost six per cent.

In Canada, auto sales dropped by 3.9% by the end of the first quarter. Despite a relatively positive report in fleet sales, sales were only slightly offset as retail sales continued to decline. As of this writing, year-end figures were unavailable.

That said, over 5000 vehicles are sold in Canada per day.

Pulling up in first place, and outpacing the competition by shall we say, a lot, is the Ford F-Series, with 117,042 sales. This will be the 11th consecutive year the F-Series ranks number 1.

The number two spot is the Ram P/U with sales totalling 75,324, an increase of 11 percent. After a rocky start, Ram sales surged aided by a vehicle showcase that features the reliable Ram Classic. Ram’s market share occupies a quarter of the full-size truck market.

Landing in third spot is the Canadian-made Honda Civic which clocked 49,601 sales figures by the end of the third quarter. That marks a decrease in sales by 12 percent. More bad news in that Civic sales are declining faster than the overall passenger car slide.

In fourth place, and with decidedly better news is Toyota’s RAV4. With sales just slightly behind the Civic, total units are up 21 percent, with sales jumping by 50 percent in the previous two years. With only 33,156 total sales in 2013, Toyota is cruising toward sales figures twice that by the end of 2019.

On track to hit record sales level for the tenth straight year in a row is the Honda CR-V. With sales totalling 43,464 Honda’s best-selling utility vehicle is doing just fine, thank you very much! 

Measuring The Standout Auto Brands Of 2020 

Social media monitoring site Storyclash.com is a European company that tracks social media across multiple platforms in various industries. Earlier this year the company launched a series called Industry Insights and took a deep dive into the top-performing automotive brands in June, producing a revised list in September. The platforms reviewed were Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. They tabulated all interactions and fans from these platforms and ranked them in terms of the best performing automotive brands worldwide, which included:

Mercedes Benz, which placed first, followed by BMW, Toyota, Porsche., Ferrari and Lamborghini.

In terms of sheer volume, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Toyota, Citroen and Volkswagen scored highest when it came to posting the greatest number of items on social media.

Benz could be considered the most savvy so far across all platforms, but broken down things start to vary. On Facebook, Benz took the top spot, followed by French company Citroen with Chevrolet in third.

On Instagram, Benz took the top spot again followed by BMW and Porsche pulling up at a distant third.

A bit of twist occurs on Twitter, which a lot of brands tend to ignore. In light of that, Tesla steps up to the plate and focuses tightly on this social network. Mercedes-AMG follows while Dodge lands in third place.

Automotive brands are among the top-ranked social media brands overall, so it’s obvious that social media is a natural for promotion and interaction with followers. Facebook and Instagram remain the leading platforms but stay tuned as social media users tend to be a fickle bunch. Things could be very different by the end of next year. 

App-solutely Cool

These days it’s all about connectivity. Your car is essentially a smartphone on wheels, which can be controlled by a hand-held device. But there’s still a number of cool apps out there that have been almost universally praised during the past year. Here’s just a few… 

Waze

Waze is a virtual juggernaut amongst apps. It’s become the go-to mechanism for urban drivers in swelling urban areas. That’s because it can summon an immensely detailed map of virtually every city in the universe, including up-to-the minute info on everything from accidents to construction along your chosen route. 

Gas Buddy 

If Waze is the urban driver’s go-to app, then Gas Buddy is the go-to app for people who wanna save loads on gas. If it supposedly saves you an average of $340 annually on gas in The United States, Australia and…oh yeah, Canada.

Bonus features include the fact that the app will identify venues with car washes and diners offered alongside the core service, which can come in mighty handy if you’re hankering for a burger fix on one of those looooooong road trips. 

Chargemap – (have Patience! It’s On The Way!) 

This free mobile app which boasts a community of 280,000 users lists over 220,000 charging points on an easy-to-use map. The app provides details like connector types and hours of access. Also features reviews and pix as well. And while it’s only currently available in Europe and the UK word on the street is that its coming soon to a phone near you! 

Cars.com

With features like a payment calculator, and the ability to connect with dealers directly, cars.com is considered the go-to app for car purchases. You can search for both new and “previously-loved” vehicles in your area, including detailed descriptions of the car. There’s dealer profiles and a market comparison feature to demo what similar cars have sold for in your area. There’s a feature called On the Lot, which will provide you with an inventory of local dealers including any special offers they happen to have. 

Turo

This being the era of the “shared economy,” Turo was bound to happen. This car-sharing marketplace app allows users to find alternatives to a rental car or earn money by sharing their own car. Feel like taking a spin in a specialty vehicle? Look no further. Turo allows you to find a list of available cars with a few clicks of a button. 

Telematics & Greener Trucks 

While progress is being made, the trucking industry still has a way to go before it fully embraces a truly eco-friendly position. But telematics are indeed a thing and a recent IBM report claims that this will play a major role in “revitalizing” the trucking sector.

The venerable company looks into its telescope and predicts that the scope of telematics has the potential to do virtually everything from decreasing truck speed around blind curbs to assessing issues for maintenance. The end result will be a decrease in accidents, fuel usage and litigation costs.

Vehicle monitoring is kind of a big deal at the moment but so is fuel efficiency and along with new efficiency standards, the industry will need to make a big turnaround and fast. Public taste is definitely leaning towards green and companies are jumping on the bandwagon shifting priorities to score environmental brownie points with a citizenry that’s quick to judge. Be on the lookout for newer, leaner, greener and meaner auxiliary systems and powertrains among other features being modified for the driver of tomorrow. 

The Buzz Word: Electric 

With Tesla leading the way, 2020 promises to accelerate the growth of electric vehicles. Teslas’s Model Y crossover built on the Model 3 platform has some competition from a range of vehicles offered by Volkswagen’s ID series, including a reimagined Microbus and a small hatchback. Be on the lookout for an expansion of mild hybrid programs and a range of new electric and hybrid offerings. 

Innovate Innovate Innovate 

In October, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada announced the latest round of awards honouring the best in technology, safety and green innovation. The awards include the Porsche: Taycan 800-Volt Architecture, which can process 100 kilometers of charge in a mere five minutes, fast by any standard. The Taycan is the fastest charging car on the market, which sets it miles apart from the competition.

Topping the technical innovation standouts, FCA’s blind spot monitoring and trailer detection which is used on Ram trucks wowed with its ability to detect the length of the trailer when connected. This in turn can notify the driver is another vehicle is in the blind spot which allows the driver to make safer lane changes while towing. Not to be outdone, Hyundai’s Blind Spot View Monitor is designated as its 360-degree camera which can project a wide-angle view of adjacent lanes into the vehicle’s gauge cluster. “When the signal indicator is moved the centre of the gauge display shows either left or right lanes so the driver can execute a safe lane change. With a clearer and wider-angle view than outside mirrors can provide, this feature improves safety in traffic,” says the group’s press release. Congrats to all the winners and thanks for helping to make the roads a little bit better! 

The Next Big Thing? 

There’s no denying that Millennials have a greater sense of entrepreneurship as one of the shiny indicators of their generation. There are several upstart startups paving their way into the marketplace. One of these, Rivian which just happened to secure some chump change to the tune of $700 million (from Amazon no less) is hoping to give Tesla a literal run for its money by dropping the RIT, first fully electric pickup truck before next year’s end. Watch for it. 

Building A Better Battery? 

Much noise was generated during the past year as sodium ion batteries were touted as “the new lithium.” However with the development of a new organic cathode, the stability and energy density in sodium ion batteries has potentially been greatly enhanced. Keep your eye peeled for more info about this emerging phenom. 

Digital Reach Just Got A Bit Further… 

Job Descriptions in shops are changing as mechanics are rapidly becoming computer programmers and techies, since heavy investments are required by automakers to upgrade digital platforms which operate their vehicles.

A new release of vehicle updates that can be managed remotely was recently announced by BMW. Software upgrades to your car can now be performed with an experience similar to updates for your hand-held devices. Not to be outdone, GM is rolling out a new platform capable of meeting the bandwdith requirements of its future vehicle lineup that includes the capacity to perform Over the Air (OTA) updates. 

Donald Trump And His… Standards? 

As of this writing The Big Bad Orange Guy south of the border is busy dismissing impeachment inquiries. There’s never a dull moment when Trump’s involved and that was exactly the case back in September when he was joined by a coalition of automakers after a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defence Fund was launched that month.

At issue is whether the state of California has the right to establish its own greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards. The Trump administration plans to roll back national pollution and gas mileage standards introduced by the Obama government.

GM, Toyota, Fiat, Chrysler and others have teamed to stand beside the Trump administration. Siding against the Trump group is The Coalition For Sustainable Automotive Regulation, which counts among its members Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Suzuki, Ferrari and others who back California and endorse tighter emissions and fuel economy standards.

Trump has proposed freezing the Obama-era standards at 2021 levels.

Automakers are taking sides (and stands) since they want to understand what regulations they’ll have to obey as future vehicles roll off the lines.

Part of their political risk is not alienating consumers who may fall on either side of supporting their illustrious leader. Furthermore technology investors, who are known for putting a few bucks into automakers’ product, are also at risk of being ruffled.

Companies like Chrysler, Fiat and Toyota tend to make more money off larger, less-efficient vehicles than a lot of their competitors.

In September, Trump announced his administration would seek to revoke California’s congressionally granted authority to set standards that are stricter than those issued by federal regulators.

The move followed an act by Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen who signed a deal with the California Air Resources Board, the state’s air pollution regulator, which had been in conflict with the Trump administration for months.

The Trump administration claims that freezing the fuel economy standards will reduce the average sticker price of new vehicles by up to $2,700 US by 2025., That claim is disputed by environmental groups who state that those projections don’t include money consumers would save at the gas pump if cars got better mileage. A study released by Consumer Reports in August found the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels.

California has 35 million registered vehicles, the most of any state. A dozen other states and the District of Columbia follow California’s standards. 

Looking Towards a 5g Horizon 

And finally, no discussion about the future of cars can ignore the game changer that’s coming down the pipeline: 5G.

For the uninitiated, 5G is, in its simplest terms, the fifth generation of wireless technology. There are claims that 5G will open a door through which will enter a network for future generations with higher speeds and faster communication amongst many devices.

5G’s expected to improve wireless networks in three domains.

The first, connectivity, which refers to the sheer number of devices that can communicate with one another. By 2020 between 50-and-100 billion devices globally are estimated to be connected to the internet. The technology will enhance the ability to connect an innumerable amount of people to each other and the internet devices around them.

Latency is the second enhancement. “Latency” refers to the length of time it takes for data to transfer across a network, and also the time between sending and receiving. 5G will reduce the current time of 50 milliseconds to a mere one millisecond.

Finally, 5G will introduce broader bandwidth. The assumption is that the downloading speed needed for 3D viewing is expected to usher in a new era in health care, education and entertainment.

The third 5G innovation will be the introduction of greater bandwidth. That should enable the downloading speed needed for 3D viewing and other immersive experiences expected to revolutionize entertainment, health care and education.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term that’s been floating around since 1999 and refers to physical objects, like cars and drones that are connected to the internet.

This is where things get very interesting.

As it relates to driving and especially self-driving cars, send and response times between devices will be practically instantaneous. The speed and scope of 5G technology essentially means that devices move on without the human component. Because of these innovations, its estimated to enhance safety on the road saving 40,000 lives – at least in the United States- in the process.

Time-wise, it means reclaiming 20 days a year, while also highlighting other benefits including a reduction in pollution and traffic.

Needless to say 5G holds a lot of promise. It’s expected that 5G vehicles will start shipping in 2020 and start gaining popularity by 2022. That’s not far away. And like it or not, 5G is here to stay.

Time to get acquainted.

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