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Top Five Auto Industry Trends of 2021

The auto industry is one of the largest and most influential markets on the planet.

The industry itself, however, has remained relatively stable over the last decade.

That is now changing as rapid technological and environmental innovations force large incumbents to adapt to new challenges.

If you want to learn more about these growing trends, read on.

1. Electric Vehicle Adoption Increases Worldwide

Probably the most important trend in the automotive industry is the worldwide shift from combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles (EVs).

Searches for “electric vehicles” are up by 262% over the past five years.

The IEA estimates that global EV sales exceeded 3 million units in 2020. That’s over 4% of global vehicle sales.

EV sales grew from less than 1% of total vehicle sales a decade ago to more than 4% today.

After a disappointing 2019 in terms of EV sales, 2020 sales surpassed expectations, growing over 40% year-over-year.

Because of this growth, it’s estimated that there are now over 10 million electric cars on the road.

Over the last five years, China and Europe have been leading the way in EV sales growth.

Source: McKinsey

The U.S. lost some ground after the poor 2019 results. But its impressive growth rate in 2020 should increase its share of the global EV market.

Sales for BEV and PHEV in Europe increased by 137% in 2020 compared with the previous year, despite a 20% year-over-year decrease in the total car market. Europe now is the largest market for new plug-in electric vehicles, overtaking China's first spot last year.

And this trend isn’t expected to slow. Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects EVs to account for 10% of all new car sales by 2025 and 58% by 2040.

Even with this rapid growth, EV’s share of cars on the road is expected to remain at just 8% by 2030.

The massive rotation in the global vehicle fleet is predicted to take place in the 2030s. By the end of that decade, it’s predicted that over 30% of the cars on the road will be EVs.

Much of this growth will be driven by regulatory requirements.

Several countries have set out to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Searches for “net zero” have increased by 112% since 2016.

Some countries (and California) have even committed to phasing out all new sales of combustion engine vehicles over the next few decades.

Countries and states that have committed to phasing out the sale of internal combustion engines.

It’s estimated that to meet many of these net-zero emission goals, EVs will have to climb to at least half of all new car sales by 2050. This is faster growth than predicted by many authorities, but other initiatives may help.

Increasing battery efficiency as well as EV charging infrastructure can both speed up adoption.

Lithium-ion battery prices have fallen by 89% over the last decade, reaching a price of $137/kWh in 2020. In China, it was even reported that lithium-ion battery pack prices fell below $100/kWh for the first time.

Search results for “lithium-ion”.

Right now, there are only about 41,047 public EV charging stations across the U.S.

ev charging locations-min.png
Number of EV charging stations per 100,000 residents in each state.

However, it is estimated that over 60% of all Americans have garages that will allow for electric vehicle charging.

The increasing range of EVs should also help alleviate concerns. The 2020 Tesla Model S Long Range Plus has completely changed the perception of EV range. It can go over 400 miles on a single charge.

Searches for “2020 Tesla Model S” have grown by 4300% since 2016.

And Tesla is hoping to release the Model S Plaid+ in 2021. It’s expected to have a range of over 500 miles.

Additionally, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, and Jaguar have all released more affordable EVs that have a range of anywhere from 200 miles to 250 miles.

2. Autonomous Vehicles Change the Face of the Auto Industry

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are set to disrupt the auto industry.

Searches for “autonomous driving” have increased by 118% over the past five years.

The AV industry itself is just in its infancy, as there are only 1,400 self-driving cars on the road in the U.S. today.

However, it’s estimated that there will be 33 million autonomous vehicles on the road by 2040.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) “Levels of Driving Automation” standard shows how stages of vehicle automation progress. The standard ranges from SAE Level 0 (no automation) to SAE Level 5 (full automation)

SAE Levels of Driving Automation

There are already about 31.4 million vehicles on the road that meet the Level 1 standard. And predictions indicate that this number will grow to 54.2 million by 2024.

In addition, more than half of all vehicles are expected to fall into the Level 1-5 range by 2024.

The global autonomous vehicle market is currently valued at $54 billion. And it is expected to grow by roughly ten times in the next five to seven years.

Large companies like Tesla, Alphabet, Ford, GM, and Volvo have all entered the space.

Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Waymo opened its self-driving car technology to the public in October 2020 by starting a robo-taxi service in Phoenix.

Search interest in “Waymo” has risen by 2050% in five years.

Volkswagon closed a $2.6 billion investment in AV startup, Argo AI, in June of 2020. It joins Ford Motors, as the two now own roughly 80% of Argo.

Searches for “Argo AI” have grown by 1016% since 2016.

As a result of this partnership, Ford is expected to launch its own self-driving car business in 2022.

And Tesla launched its full self-driving (FSD) beta service in October of 2020. Now, CEO Elon Musk has vowed to launch the FSD subscription service, Autopilot, in 2021.

A major barrier to this relentless growth, however, is consumer and regulatory concerns.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has already announced the need for stricter regulation of Tesla’s Autopilot program. It also recently called on its sister agency – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – for help.

And with about two-thirds of people saying they would rather drive than ride in an autonomous car, much of the near-term focus is on trucking.

It’s expected that the $800 billion trucking industry could benefit from a significant reduction in the 4900 trucking-related deaths that occur each year if only Level 3 or 4 autonomy would gain traction.

This could allow drivers to retain their jobs, but avoid the injuries and deaths that result from exhaustion.

The number of autonomous trucks on the road is expected to increase from roughly 150 in last year to over 2000 by the end of 2021.

One of the most promising companies in the autonomous trucking ecosystem is TuSimple.

Searches for “TuSimple” have risen by 4400% over the last five years.

The company has raised $648 million since its founding in 2015, including from some large transportation companies such as Union Pacific and Goodyear.

In addition, TuSimple has partnered with Navistar and UPS to test its software under supervised driving conditions.

The company already has 50 Level 4 autonomous trucks operating in the Southwestern United States. It plans to test out its first fully driverless truck sometime in 2021. And TuSimple is hoping to begin selling completely autonomous Level 4 trucks to fleet operators by 2024.

TuSimple has an IPO planned for March of 2021 at an expected valuation of between $3.5 and $7 billion.

3. Cars Become More Connected

As 5G and the internet of things (IoT) continue their growth, vehicles are becoming more and more connected.

This has led to the rise of the connected car.

Searches for “connected car” have risen by 203% over the last decade.

This type of vehicle is defined by its ability to communicate with other software systems and collect data from its surroundings.

It’s estimated that there were roughly 47.5 million connected cars sold in 2020. And that number is predicted to rise by 20% in 2021.

The global connected car market was worth roughly $53.9 billion in 2020. And it is expected to grow to $166 billion over the next five years.

Size of the Global Connected Car Market in 2020 and 2025.

Much of this growth will be driven by the adoption of 5G technologies.

Statista predicts that global 5G smartphone subscriptions will triple by the end of this year. This kind of adoption should lead to much-improved 5G infrastructure, which could support vehicle connectivity.

Some of the largest tech companies are also now eyeing this market.

Google and Ford recently announced a connected car partnership called Team Upshift. The two plan to equip Ford and Lincoln vehicles with a built-in Android operating system by 2023.

This connectivity should allow drivers to remain connected at all times. In addition, the initiative will leverage the data collected by adding Google’s AI capabilities to Ford vehicles.

And Google isn’t the only one getting in on the action.

It has been reported that Apple is considering a $3.6 billion investment in Kia. The two purportedly plan to begin manufacturing an autonomous Apple electric car by 2024. Initial units are expected to number 100,000, but the project will have the capability to produce up to 400,000.

In addition, companies like Car IQ are bringing banking to the automotive industry.

In the last 3 months, searches for “Car IQ” were up by 2900%.

In 2020, Car IQ teamed up with Discover to implement its payment technology in auto fleets owned by businesses. The product will allow vehicles to automatically pay for things like repairs, insurance, fuel, parking, and tolls.

4. Vehicle Purchases Shift Online

The internet is affecting every part of the car-buying process.

Over 90% of car purchasers perform online research before a transaction.

And increasingly, more and more sales are taking place completely online.

Pre-pandemic, about 4.2% of total car sales took place online. This number is expected to have risen in 2020 as dealers everywhere turned to digital channels.

This makes sense, as 83% of car customers already said they wish they could save time by shopping online. And 80% of buyers already used third-party sites to assist in purchasing a car in 2019.

These online vehicle retail services offer a major increase in buying efficiency.

In traditional dealership settings, customers spend over 3 hours on average in the dealer’s showroom. With online transactions, customers can complete the purchase with the click of a mouse.

Online car retailer Carvana sold 244,111 cars in 2020. That’s an increase of 37% over 2019.

Searches for “Carvana” have increased by 1900% over the last five years.

And Tesla had already decided to close all its stores in 2019, now selling all new cars online.

It’s no wonder these services have flourished. Even before COVID-19, 43% of shoppers said they wished they could complete the entire car buying process online.

5. The Automotive Parts Market Continues to Grow

The global automotive parts market has been steadily growing for the past twenty years.

Growth of the Automotive Parts Market.

And it’s expected that this space will achieve roughly $723 billion in sales in 2021.

The internet and eCommerce have completely changed the market.

Now, 94% of consumers check the manufacturer’s website for product information before purchasing a part.

In addition, the auto parts eCommerce industry is projected to be worth $12 billion in 2021 and $19 billion in 2022.

The parts industry is benefitting from the ever-increasing average age of vehicles on the road. However, the demand for parts is also being diminished by the increasing quality of newly manufactured vehicle parts.

Much of this growth is being driven by the sale of new trucks and light SUVs. This category of vehicle is more prone to higher accessory and part sales.

Even as new auto sales fell in 2020, light truck sales grew.


These five trends are causing major shake-ups in a traditionally stable industry.

Environmental and technological concerns are advancing faster than many anticipated. This is changing the way cars are manufactured, sold, repaired, and driven.

As technology progresses, expect these trends to influence every facet of the automotive industry.

Last Updated: 
April 9, 2021
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.

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