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30 June 2017

The future faces of the automotive industry

Henry Ford is quoted as having said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses’’. His words are probably as relevant today; for it seems that the direction in which the development of technology is driven is governed as much by the innovative ideas of industry as by the
demands of the consumer.

To some extent, it is possible to predict industry trends of the future by examining the patent filings of today. A look at the key applicants in the field of autonomous vehicles tells us something about the changing nature of the car industry. The biggest applicant (by number of patent filings) in the field of autonomous vehicle technology is not a traditional car manufacturer, but Google (Fig. 1). In fact Ford, Toyota and Daimler are the only automotive OEM companies to make it into the top ten since the beginning of 2006.

The opportunity to develop autonomous vehicle technology has created an opening for tech companies to become major stakeholders in the automotive industry. Google and Apple have both committed to building their own cars1, something that arguably would not have been foreseeable 10 years ago. Whilst the traditional manufacturers have long traded on their collectively acquired expertise to make cars that are nice to drive, this could become irrelevant if nobody is driving their own car in twenty years’ time.

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