Spring is arriving in Europe, heralded for the automobile industry with the annual Geneva Motor Show. Auto shows are always an opportunity for manufacturers to show off their wares, but the Geneva event is a highlight of the calendar. Automobile manufacturers use it as an opportunity to highlight some of their latest innovations.
European automobile manufacturers invest €32 billion a year into researching the technologies and production methods that are often first seen by the public in concepts shown at auto shows. They provide a means to gauge consumers’ reactions to the open possibilities of future mobility afforded by manufacturers’ striving to make cleaner, safer and smarter vehicles.
Concept cars represent design exercises and showcase technologies that will appear on vehicles not just in the next year or two, but also in decades to come. They are the ‘cars of the future’, conceived to show what would be possible in a ‘blue sky’ world devoid of restrictions or limitations.
They have practical application, however. Technologies that have begun life in concept cars include ideas that are now common, such as ‘drive-by-wire’ steering and braking, modular seating arrangements, on-board computers, and connectivity solutions. Innovative alternative powertrain vehicles are also a staple of the concept car circuit, with electric, hybrid, CNG/LNG, or hydrogen-powered cars, vans, trucks and buses all demonstrating the potential of zero-emissions technologies.
The appeal to consumers of new propulsion and connectivity technologies has impact beyond the vehicles alone. New powertrains and systems that connect vehicles to each other and their surroundings have a ‘network’ effect, in that to be desirable the right infrastructure has to be in place and other people need to be using it. This is why the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) has long been calling for the EU to support member states in rolling out the necessary infrastructure to make alternative powertrains viable on European roads.
Taken together, the technological advances that are making it into production cars thanks to automotive innovation are changing the way consumers buy, own and use cars. Safer cars are reducing the number and severity of road accidents. Cleaner cars are helping to reduce emissions and improve fuel economy. Smarter cars are helping to keep drivers and passengers informed and entertained on the move. Manufacturers from across the automotive spectrum are offering a wider-than-ever choice to consumers, with innovations finding their place in vehicles from the mass market up to the premium segments.
In the long run, the evolution in vehicle design – and the rollout of matching infrastructure – may even have an impact on the structure of the industry itself. The popularity of cars has created a whole raft of social, environmental and economic challenges that manufacturers are working to overcome. Vehicle manufacturers are designing these cars of the future to show off their contribution to facing the tests of the coming years and decades.
ACEA regularly voices the importance of innovation – and the need for vehicle manufacturers to have a free hand when it comes to developing fresh solutions. It highlights the need for infrastructure to match these new vehicle types. In the spirit of the technological wonders shown off in Geneva this year, ACEA reiterates its call for a greater focus on, and support for, innovation in Europe. It is through this focus that Europe’s automotive industry will continue to lead through safer, cleaner and smarter mobility.