These are fast-moving times in the automotive world, with developments coming thick and fast in the areas of electric, self-driving and connected cars, as well as trends such as car sharing. But despite a shift in some locations away from individual car ownership, forecasts by Pirelli show no let-up in the growth of the market.
In the immediate future, global registrations of new vehicles are expected to rise by 2 per cent annually for the next three years, according to research from Pirelli, which gathers such data to help develop its sales plans.
Cars are lasting longer, too, so the number of vehicles in use around the world will grow by 3.3 per cent each year to 1.37bn by 2020.
The region expected to show the biggest growth in the number of vehicles will be Asia-Pacific where 40m new registrations a year are anticipated by 2020. During the same period the annual number of prestige vehicles on the planet will rise from 2.6m to 3.5m – with 1m of them in Asia-Pacific.
The growth among premium vehicles over the next three years will also outstrip the overall rate, at 4.4 per cent a year, adding up to a total of 151m, or 11 per cent of all cars on the road. By then the number of premium vehicles in Asia-Pacific – some 40m – will be close to the North American tally of 41.5m.
Europe and North America may be mature markets, with little real projected increase in car numbers, but there is huge demand in Asia-Pacific, Africa and South America – and those markets, as they mature, will want more prestige and premium cars, the research indicates.
Global usage will also rise, according to Pirelli’s figures. The total of 13,000bn miles travelled by the global vehicle fleet in 2020 will be the result of an annual growth rate of 5 per cent from 2017.
The total of 13,000bn miles travelled by the global vehicle fleet in 2020 will be the result of an annual growth rate of 5 per cent from 2017
Then there are the disruptors. Pirelli expects the proportions of electric, shared and self-driving cars to increase.
Better batteries and fast-charging technology are key to the take-up of electric vehicles, and they are promised soon. Ambitious pledges by politicians and carmakers to move away from the combustion engine will also spur that trend. Volvo has pledged to put an electric motor in every car launched from 2019, for example. Norway is to require all new cars sold from 2025 to be fully electric or hybrid, and France and the UK say they will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.
Norway is to require all new cars sold from 2025 to be fully electric or hybrid
Nor is moving away from the internal combustion engine just a worthy cause. Ross Brawn, Formula One managing director of motorsports, points out that electric motors can enhance performance and says driving hybrids “can still be fun as well as environmentally responsible”. If buyers demand pleasure, the carmakers will engineer it in.
Car sharing makes sense for many drivers because the average vehicle is parked for 97 per cent of its life, according to a 2010 study of UK city-based car owners. Even some car manufacturers are dabbling with sharing – such as BMW with DriveNow, co-owned by hire company Sixt – or fractional ownership schemes, with Ford and Audi among those getting involved.
Car sharing – through organisations such as DriveNow, which offers car use paid for by the minute, or car clubs that use a similar model but with the car always returned to the starting location – does offer a way to avoid owning a car. And according to CarPlus, a charity funded by the UK’s Department of Transport and Transport for London, every club car in the capital takes more than 10 privately-owned cars off the road.
Clubs can offer each member access to a range of cars, so they can have a different vehicle for every occasion. And sharing is being seen as a way to tackle young urbanites’ increasing disenchantment with car ownership.
Clubs can offer each member access to a range of cars, so they can have a different vehicle for every occasion
The third main disruptor identified by Pirelli – self-driving technology – grabs headlines but the transition could take “at least 30 years”, according to Chris Urmson, one of the key people in the push to develop the technology. He was Google’s director of self-driving cars from 2013 to 2016.
With so many alternative routes to the future, the automotive sector is about to undergo a radical shakeup. But while motors, interiors, the materials used for their construction and the technology they contain are all still to be decided, one aspect of all vehicles looks unlikely to change markedly in the next few decades – they will all need to be shod with tyres.