At the height of its success, Infiniti was a successful automotive brand that rode a wave of success in the ’90s and early 2000s. So it’s unfortunate that the 2021 Infiniti Q50 illustrates how the brand has lost its innovative streak. Like many Infinitis in the lineup, the Q50 is an old car that was first launched in the USA as a 2014 model. The QX80 is even older. Sales started crashing even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the new QX55 crossover might be too little, too late for an Infiniti revival. To add insult to injury, Infiniti’s variable-compression engine’s gas mileage falls short of expectations and it offers no hybrids or EVs.
Infiniti was once lauded for innovative and class-leading products like the 1990 Q45 luxury sedan, the 1996 QX4 luxury SUV, and the 2003 G35 compact luxury sedan and coupe. The G35 was among the best in its class. In comparison with most rivals, it led its segment in terms of reliability, performance, cargo space, features, and horsepower figures. Yet, today’s Infiniti suffers from a lack of direction and vision and other automakers and tech startups have left it far behind in the race to prepare the next round of automotive technologies for commercial use. Infiniti might yet find it the subject of many a post-mortem case study in the future.
The automotive landscape is changing rapidly and automakers have had to innovate to stay ahead, working in tandem with exciting new startups to bring cutting-edge new technologies to consumers. Electric vehicles are the Next Big Thing and Tesla has been leading the way. Other current-day buzzwords applicable to the motoring industry include autonomous vehicles, connectivity, AI, and shared mobility. In each of these fields, many startups are active and have secured funding. Some will make it into the big time and some will fail as the market matures and consolidates.
The Biggest Automotive Trends
Automakers and automotive startups in countries across the world have been gearing up to bring a suite of new technologies to the average motor vehicle. While EVs and autonomous vehicles perhaps attract the most press, there are a host of others too.
Here is a short review of each of the most important automotive buzz phrases:
- Electric vehicles. Tesla is leading the way, but the Volkswagen Group, GM, Ford, and many other legacy automakers are making big strides. It has opened the market for brand-new startup automakers too, such as Lordstown, Bollinger, Rivian, Rimac, and Nikola. In charging and related infrastructure, there are now many opportunities too; for example, German startup ChargeX’s modular EV charger can convert any parking space into a charging station.
- Autonomous vehicles. The industry is still very fragmented, especially in terms of preferred AV technologies. For example, Tesla believes that their camera-only system is superior and cheaper than radar and lidar solutions, but most rivals disagree. In the meantime, Honda has stolen the march on the rest of the industry with the first Level 3 autonomous vehicle. Startups such as Intvo’s 2D and 3D object-detection tech aims to bring to the market the best technology for predicting pedestrian behavior. Udelv, on the other hand, is involved in developing AI to power autonomous last-mile delivery vehicles.
- Vehicle connectivity. In the future, our vehicles will be digitally connected and networked with each other and with road infrastructure to make all networked devices aware of each other and able to interact to improve traffic safety and congestion. In this space, the Israeli NoTraffic startup aims to digitize the road infrastructure with its AI traffic-signal platform to manage traffic flow. British V2X Network’s V2X (vehicle-to-everything) platform facilitates autonomous transactions with various secure, low-latency communication technologies.
- Artificial intelligence. AI can be used to manage vehicle fleets, guide AVs, improve traffic safety, and assist drivers. US startup Apex AI’s vehicle operating system provides a secure platform for developing many AV mobility solutions and it has also developed a data-management platform for securely transmitting data between the vehicle and the cloud. Indian startup RevitsOne develops AI software to manage vehicle fleets of any size and keep track of running vitals and vehicle speed.
- Shared mobility. V2X technology will make possible new alternatives to traditional car ownership and MaaS (mobility as a service) will reduce the number of unused vehicles. US-based Launch Mobility’s LM Mission Control is a station-based or free-floating platform for car sharing, shared scooters, and peer-to-peer shared mobility solutions. Singapore’s Beam is a micro-mobility platform using scooters customized for sharing and an app to find scooters on the island in the interest of sustainable short-distance rides.
- Data analytics and big data to inform maintenance decisions and predictions throughout the life of a car or provide fleet managers with vehicle data. Switzerland’s Unit8 startup offers digital big data solutions such as predictive models to provide automakers with insights on pricing, manufacturing, and revenues. The US’s Procon Analytics uses millions of data points in car finance to help lenders reduce their risk.
Other Trending Technologies
These are by no means the only important automotive technologies to keep track of in 2021, but they are probably the most important ones. Others that could be added to the list include:
- Blockchain for the secure sharing of vehicle data to integrate delivery, ride-hailing, and urban transportation mobility solutions
- New-age HMIs (human-machine interfaces) for interacting with our vehicles
- IoT (internet of things) to facilitate secure V2X communication
- Additive manufacturing for rapid 3D-model prototyping and the ability to print stronger and lighter car parts at will
Tesla arguably gets the credit for resetting the automotive industry with its EVs and autonomous tech, but other carmakers have joined in and are closing the gap. This has left automakers such as Infiniti finding themselves out in the cold and in danger of becoming irrelevant in the modern context. Legacy car companies can quickly find themselves relegated to the sidelines and the proliferation of new automakers and tech startups will not leave space for all the current players a few years from now. Only the strong will survive the current revolution.