Looking forward, looking back
As always at this time of year, we look forward to the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead whilst reflecting on the year just gone. And what a year it’s been! It has seen two of the potentially most disruptive sets of negotiations to have impacted the automotive industry in its modern history. I refer, of course, to the on-going wrangles over Brexit and NAFTA. Was any progress made? Were any burning questions answered? Were any solutions arrived at? To this very interested observer it would appear not. The NAFTA agreement is just as critical to the future of the Mexican auto industry as Brexit is to that of the United Kingdom. So much is at stake. Not only the on-going well-being of the respective industries themselves, but the future security of jobs and, indeed, of the two nations’ economies. It is to be hoped that 2018 will see real, constructive progress being made towards achieving mutually acceptable outcomes.
Last year was also noteworthy for two other reasons. It saw significant headway being made towards a new era of electrification and of self-driving vehicles. That this represents a vision of the future is not in doubt. For all my personal reservations about autonomy, I am not some latter-day Luddite, nor am I a reincarnation of King Canute trying vainly to hold back the incoming tide. Self-driving vehicles are coming, let there be no doubting it. The only question surrounds the time-scale. Is the car-driving public yet ready to embrace self-driving? There is recent evidence that it is not. A survey of British motorists conducted by comparethemarket.com showed that almost two-thirds of them would not buy a driverless car and one-third would not pay extra for one. The biggest fears expressed in the survey were, unsurprisingly, to do with road safety but also about the risk of being hacked. Respondents were unsure about the benefits of self-driving and showed highly cynical attitudes towards both vehicle manufacturers and technology companies, accusing both of only being interested in profit. Since it is the consumer who drives commercial success, this whole concept has still got some convincing to do.
Was 2017 also the year which saw the beginning of the end for diesel cars? The UK government seems to have set its cap firmly against diesels, as a recent increase in car tax on them would appear to indicate. Last year saw sales of diesels fall by 30%. Where does this leave carmakers who have invested significantly in new Euro 6 engines?
Doubtless all will become clearer as time moves on. In the meantime, I wish all our readers a happy and prosperous New Year.
Simon Duval Smith
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