Change, it seems, is certain for the auto industry.
While it's unlikely that full autonomy will take hold any time soon, advanced driver assistance systems will continue to progress, and electric vehicles are poised for significant growth in the years ahead.
Brett Smith, director of technology at the Center for Automotive Research, said we're seeing that shift to EVs now. This year, the EV segment outperformed every other vehicle segment, and that's in spite of COVID-19's impacts. While overall vehicle sales were down 17 percent, EVs dropped just 4.8 percent.
That's good news for many auto suppliers, but especially for tire makers. Because as technology pushes the auto industry into new arenas, one thing will remain constant: Those vehicles will need tires.
Christine Domer, Smithers' general manager of Akron Laboratories and Tire Services, told those attending the virtual International Tire Exhibition & Conference that demand for EV tires will grow exponentially in the years ahead.
Smithers' data shows that in 2018 19.9 million tires were sold across the EV segment. By 2028, it predicts that 422.4 million EV tires will be sold. For passenger cars and light vehicles, that translates to $1.4 billion in sales in 2018, and a predicted $29.6 billion in sales in 2028.
Political analysts also say it's possible that the U.S. could move closer to establishing policy that better aligns with the auto industry's move toward EVs.
Throughout the last four years, the Trump Administration has rolled back emissions standards that once held steady during the Obama administration. The pivot created moving targets for auto makers. But as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, he's signaled that his goals will be to move back toward Obama-era guidance.
Biden's campaign promises include an aggressive $2 trillion infrastructure proposal that would add 500,000 EV charging stations nationwide, provide cash vouchers to consumers who trade in fossil fuel-powered vehicles for U.S.-made electric models and accelerate research on battery technology to support domestic production.
Now, auto makers are committing research and development dollars to EV technology.
GM doubles down
General Motors renewed its focus on EVs, saying Nov. 19 that it would invest $27 billion into the technology, an increase of 35 percent.
Within the next five years, 40 percent of the auto maker's lineup should be electrified. To achieve this, GM plans to move up the scheduled launches of some EVs and introduce at least 30 EVs globally through 2025. At least 20 of those will launch in North America.
To assist with this initiative, GM plans to hire 3,000 employees by the first quarter of 2021 to accelerate electric vehicle production and enhance vehicle software.
"Climate change is real, and we want to be part of the solution by putting everyone in an electric vehicle," CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. "We are transitioning to an all-electric portfolio from a position of strength and we're focused on growth. We can accelerate our EV plans because we are rapidly building a competitive advantage in batteries, software, vehicle integration, manufacturing and customer experience."
Ford rethinks batteries
Meanwhile, Ford is rethinking its supply chain in an effort to preserve its work force as it moves toward EVs.
At the Reuters Automotive Summit last month, Ford CEO Jim Farley said the auto maker was considering manufacturing battery cells for electric vehicles. The move would offset potential job losses as a result of products that require fewer parts to build.
Farley said Ford plans to transition its work force from building internal combustion engines to assembling inverters and electric motors, but that may not be enough. The United Auto Workers union, in recent years, has raised concerns about employment levels should most auto makers transition to products that aren't as complicated to build.