The Top 5 Auto World Trends of 2017

By: Bridget Clerkin December 22, 2017
Partnerships between tech firms and automakers—like Cruise Automation and General Motors—were a hot trend in the automotive world in 2017.
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In the practice of numerology—the pseudo-scientific belief that numbers give off specific vibrations—2017 is considered a “one year,” or the first year of the nine-year cycles by which numerologists divide time.

One years are thought to be very special indeed, as they represent a fresh new start, and numerologists believe that the changes made during this foundational period flourish and come to fruition over the course of the rest of the cycle.

Whether or not the idea holds any truth, it can’t be denied that the past 12 months have been nothing short of transformative, housing plenty of tectonic shifts, both cultural and political. Still, the realignments were perhaps felt nowhere else as keenly as the automotive world, which was rocked on all sides by technological development, a swiftly moving zeitgeist, and the ever-fluid influence of money, among other huge factors.

And indeed, most of these changes will continue to progress many years into the future, affecting the subsequent growth pattern not just of the auto industry, but of society itself.

Below are five of the biggest new automotive trends of 2017, and how they could figure into a rapidly changing future.

Robocar Steeplechase

A slew of automakers, including BMW, announced plans in 2017 for their self-driving vehicle rollouts in the early 2020s.

In years to come, 2017 will likely be remembered as the year the self-driving race began in earnest. The idea has quickly gone from novelty to niche to hyper-competitive initiative adopted by every major automaker on the planet, all sprinting to unveil a truly autonomous vehicle.

At stake are not only the bragging rights of beating the competition, but also the chance to create an entirely new market for app-summoned robo-taxis—and all the major economic opportunities that come with it.

Adopting the philosophy that anyone who’s not first is last, this year saw many boldface names from across the automotive world confirm deadlines by which they’ll release their self-driving models. And while the promised level of “autonomy” varies, as well as what it means to “release” a model, the race looks like it may come down to a photo finish, with a majority of the world’s top carmakers eyeing a debut sometime in the next four years:

  • 2020: A busy year for intended autonomous vehicle roll-outs, several giants of the industry pegged 2020 as the time to release groundbreaking technology, ranging from driverless highway programs to fully self-driving vehicles. So far, the year has been earmarked by Honda, Toyota, Renault-Nissan, and Hyundai.
  • 2021: Another packed year for self-driving promises that has been cited for the release of highly autonomous technology by automakers like Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, BMW, and Volvo, among others.
  • “Early 2020s”: Many carmakers have practiced an abundance of caution when mentioning possible roll-outs, offering vague timeframes instead of specific dates. Most notably, Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler has said it would come out with autonomous models by “the beginning of the next decade.” And while General Motors hasn’t committed to a solid release date for self-driving models, the company is the first to build a plant designed specifically for the mass production of driver-free vehicles, likely making it ready to roll out autonomous cars soon.

When Worlds Collide

In the collaborative spirit of 2017, 2000s cell phone giant Blackberry announced a partnership with auto parts manufacturer Delphi to create operating systems for self-driving vehicles.

The breakneck pace of the self-driving race has been set thanks in great part to another huge trend: the emerging partnerships of auto and tech companies.

The industries have gone from symbiotic to selfsame through an increasingly tangled web of newly forged alliances, with technology start-ups often reaping the benefit of specialized know-how and raking in major money for offering their services to automakers.

Among the year’s busiest wheelers and dealers is Waymo, Google’s self-driving division, which announced partnerships with Lyft and Intel—and, subsequently, Fiat-Chrysler—among others.

For their part, Ford also signed lots of dotted lines this year, inking deals with Lyft, tech start-up Argo AI, and Chinese search engine giant Baidu to advance their cause.

Partnerships were so prevalent this year that even Blackberry, a company long thought dead in the water, announced they would get in on the action by teaming up with British autonomous auto parts maker Delphi.

A year for new beginnings, indeed.

Getting Charged Up & Going the Distance 

Electric vehicles had a big moment in 2017. Governments across the world—notably including China—announced their plans to ban combustion engines over the next 30 years.

Aside from tech dedicated to getting humans out of the driver’s seat, the year was filled with new developments to get the most mileage out of the cars themselves.

Much of the progress made in 2017 was driven by the timeline attached to rising federal fuel emissions standards, which are due to increase to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 (although the program may yet be derailed by the Trump administration).

Still, many automakers heeded the call to bring more gas-savvy cars to market this year. Leading the way was Tesla, which had a prolific run, releasing its all-electric Model 3 in 2017 as well as revealing the world’s first battery-powered semi-truck.

And the United States isn’t the only country looking to put gas guzzlers in its rearview. In Europe, France and the United Kingdom both declared this year that they would ban the sales of petrol- and diesel-run vehicles by 2040. Not to be outdone, Germany announced it would quit manufacturing combustion engines by 2030.

Perhaps most notably for efficiency trends, China has read the writing on the wall. The Asian giant, which made nearly one-third of total global vehicle purchases last year, announced it would soon ban manufacturing of all fossil fuel-powered autos.

Expanding Options

The private sector wasn’t the only area that ushered in a sea of change this year.

An unusually fleet-footed realm of government moved at the pace of the national conversation on LGBTQ rights in 2017, with a clutch of states responding to the community’s calls for more inclusion—and official recognition.

The opportunity to choose a third gender option on a driver’s license became available in Oregon, California, and Washington, D.C. this year, while another measure to add a non-binary choice was proposed in Massachusetts.

Oregon, California, and Washington, D.C. all allowed drivers to select a third gender option in 2017.  

In lieu of an “F” or “M” on the official government document, those who pick the third option will see an “X” on their license, which officially stands for “sex that is not specified.”

And while the progressive measures ruffled some feathers in the states, a recent estimation placed the number of non-binary Americans anywhere between 245,000 to 350,000, giving this trend plenty of legroom to continue well past 2017.

Suspended Disbelief

The year also saw a lot of public sector movement on the idea of driver’s license suspension—although the shift in perspective wasn’t always a win for state residents.

South Dakota declared its motorists could lose their driving privileges in the state for missing student loan payments—a move that caused almost 1,000 residents of the Mount Rushmore State to have their licenses revoked.

Still, the direction of the trend was more pleasant in other areas.

Michigan put a bill up for debate that would end its notorious “driver responsibility fees,” extra charges tacked onto tickets that could lead to license suspension if left unpaid.

And California did away with the idea altogether, divorcing unpaid traffic tickets from revoked driving privileges through legislation that eliminated license suspension as an option for courts to punishment those who still owe.

As for how the laws will impact the future, only time—or a really good numerologist—can tell.

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