Report from OESA Meeting: 2019 Automotive Market Outlook and Connectivity Trends

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Experts warned in late 2018, that they expected to see new light vehicle sales in the U.S. dip for 2019.  A year earlier, many predicted the same sort of decline for 2018 but last year’s numbers proved them wrong.  U.S. sales in 2018 reached 17.3 million, a gain of 0.6% and the fourth biggest year on record.  The 2018 numbers did include some warnings for the year ahead.  In the last three months of 2018 the biggest U.S. automakers saw deliveries fall at a faster rate than for all of 2018.  The early austere predictions for 2019 also factored in expected increases to interest rates, the noticeably high cost of new vehicles, and the robust stock of used cars hitting the market following record leasing back in 2016. Other downward pressures in early 2019 included broad economic uncertainty, most notably exemplified in the government shutdown, falling consumer confidence connected to the volatile stock market in December and January, and increased pessimistic news about the future economic situation.

Two months later, much of the most worrisome economic news has quieted.  The government is open and back to normal. The expected interest rate hikes appear to be on hold for the time being.   The swings in the stock market have settled and the dire predictions of a faltering U.S. economy have largely gone silent. Even last Friday’s Jobs Report, which was the lowest in over a year, is being explained away as little more than worrisome.  Unemployment remains at the lowest levels in decades, gas is cheap, and consumer confidence has not plummeted as so many feared but remains at historically high levels. Nonetheless, experts continue to predict U.S. light vehicles will fall in the range of 4% in 2019 to 16.6 million and may fall even further in 2020.  Some parts of the world are already ahead of us.  China’s 2018 passenger-vehicle sales fell for the first time since 1990 and are expected to fall further this year.  Trends in the markets continue to suggest a pullback is ahead.

These economic trends for 2019 were key topics on February 27, 2019 at the Original Equipment Suppliers Association (OESA) Strategic Insights Executive Briefing Series held at the Michigan State University Management Education Center in Troy, Michigan.  The OESA is a non-profit trade association and advocacy group which focuses on the business interests of automotive original equipment suppliers, throughout the supply chain.  The OESA is also one of four divisions of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association. Each year the OESA brings together industry-leading experts to present to their executive level members.

This year’s event included presentations on the Global Automotive Industry Outlook from Jeff Schuster, President of Americas Operation and Global Vehicle Forecasting, LMC Automotive and a Deloitte Consulting panel discussion on Connectivity as a Strategic Enabler in the Mobility Landscape.

Schuster’s global industry overlook echoed the U.S. warnings about slowing sales for 2019.  China, Europe, and the U.S. are all seeing weaknesses in sales growth.  Trucks will continue to grow in 2019 and SUV sales are forecast to drive any industry growth across all sizes and markets globally because nearly half of all car owners are defecting to light trucks when they upgrade. Experts predict SUV sales will account for half of all U.S. new vehicle sales in 2019.

Recognizing the pull back of mature markets, Schuster turned to expected areas of possible growth. The worldwide green vehicle market share remains small but the battery electric pipeline will continue to widen and be an area of steady growth and expected to accelerate in the coming years.  Whereas China’s overall sales fell for 2018, electric vehicle sales there increased 62% to 1.26 million, hitting an overall 4% of total passenger vehicle sales in China.  China dominates in battery electric vehicle sales.  The Chinese government’s policies use subsidies to support electric vehicle sales and is on track to continue growth of that market although many suspect a dip if and when those subsidies come to an end.  Europe is also moving quickly toward battery electric vehicles in part due to tougher standards.  Europe exceeds the U.S. in total electrified technologies including conventional fully hybrid technology.  Tesla pre-orders are helping move the U.S. numbers up however Tesla remains a relatively small player on the world stage.  As more models arrive and as platforms optimized for electric vehicles arrive, experts expect to see even more mainstreaming of this technology, particularly in Europe and China.

Experts have also begun to pull back their forecasting for when Autonomous Vehicles will be broadly available.  The dreams for autonomous vehicles remain as robust as ever but the real-world deployment is facing obstacles.  The testing continues and becomes more complex with time, policy and regulation continue to increase focus, but questions about return on investment, fragmentation, and specialization all are dampening the long term broad outlooks for autonomous vehicle technology.  Schuster predicts autonomous vehicles for the masses to be pushed further and further out into the future.

Deloitte’s panel continued the technology discussion when it addressed connectivity as a strategic enabler in the mobility landscape.  Deloitte explained over 70% of consumers prefer some “built-in” connectivity in their cars.  Consumers are particularly interested in benefits such as traffic and maintenance updates, safer travel routes, and collision detection.  For this reason much of the money currently being spent toward data collection and usage in vehicles goes toward diagnostics.  Consumers are overwhelmingly willing to pay for this type of connective technologies particularly those that allow the vehicle to self-diagnose problems and optimize traffic flow.  Interestingly passengers are not in agreement, preferring smartphone and other “brought-in” technology to the build in variety.

Deloitte reports consumers have concerns with the possibility of connectivity of their vehicles as well.  Roughly 62% fear their vehicles can be hacked at a risk to personal safety and a similar percentage have privacy concerns about who will collect and have access to their personal data.  Interestingly, according to a Deloitte survey while 31% do not trust anyone with the data, a similar percentage trust the car manufacturers, nearly 20% higher than the next most likely option (insurers).  Consumers are also becoming more comfortable with handing over some vehicle control in certain situations (distracted driving, impaired driving, and emergency health situations).

Deloitte proposes five areas for automotive growth: (i) a customer-centric mobility ecosystem, one that is highly personalized, service-oriented and includes technology advanced offers for customers who are looking beyond just the product itself in their decision making; (ii) innovation that enables integrated technology; (iii) a holistic approach to meta data management; (iv) platforms that enable new revenue streams including many smaller, recurring transactions; and (v) an updated role for traditional car manufacturers.  Based on these trends, Deloitte predicts the automotive industry will continue to invest in assistive technologies and meta data management to support the connected customer.

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