Bending the rules | Automotive Glass Interiors | Corning Gorilla Glass

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Behind the Glass

Covid-19 and its impact on tomorrow’s auto trends

Covid-19 and its impact on tomorrow’s auto trends

By Michael Kunigonis, Vice President and General Manager, Corning Automotive Glass Solutions

There’s no denying it: COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the auto industry. Global auto demand collapsed in Q2 resulting in the largest industry shock in decades (see sales chart). Due to this decline, it’s reasonable to expect that tomorrow’s market will look different than today’s. The question is, how different? Will tomorrow’s trends toward connected, autonomous, shared, and electrified vehicles (commonly referred to as “CASE”) be affected?

I’ve written about CASE before in this piece, where I detailed how existing ecosystems and technologies will be key enablers in the pursuit for increased vehicle capability. Today, things are tough. But it’s often in downturns that new and exciting opportunities emerge, and at Corning, we’re watching as these trends evolve and ultimately impact auto demand. Let me break it down for you, starting with CASE.

Connectivity goes beyond 5G and vehicle data access – it’s also about design. More connected experiences mean cars need more ways to display infotainment across dashboards and consoles. These display-rich interiors create myriad possibilities for different display sizes, shapes, and types. Meanwhile, display tech is evolving – from LCD today to flexible OLED and microLED tomorrow. As design differentiation shifts from the exterior to the interior, it’s design-oriented automakers that are gaining market share as they compete to “wow” consumers within the cabin and capture that vehicle sale.

You see, you hear, you feel, you touch, you taste. You are an autonomous being, and your brain uses all five of your senses in concert to interrogate your every environment. For similar syncopation with autonomous driving, cars need sensors that communicate and work together. Take the recent coverage on Lucid Motors – the company’s first vehicle will have 32 sensors spanning lidar, radar, camera, and ultrasonic capabilities in strategic locations on the vehicle for 360-degree coverage. The sensors work like our senses do: they interrogate surroundings to communicate back to the brain or, in this case, the car’s central processor and, ultimately, the driver. Despite COVID-19, full autonomy is still our destination; our journey to get there will just take a bit longer as the industry paces development and concentrates on its current challenges.

Shared Mobility
Agile tech companies shine here. Look at Uber, for example. When demand for rides in the second quarter dropped 75% year-over-year, Uber used its existing IT infrastructure to shift from transporting people to transporting goods. Its purchase of Postmates adds to its Uber Eats business, capitalizing on new, COVID-induced demand. This is a good example of an industry being aware of the environment and pivoting business models to make the most of their strengths.

According to IHS, battery electric vehicle production saw a 20% decline during the first half of 2020, whereas light-duty vehicles saw 35%. Electrification is like connectivity – both trends have fared better during COVID than autonomous vehicles and shared mobility. Expect continued growth here, albeit off the small base of EV sales.

New Post-COVID Trends
One thing to watch is the decline of public transportation usage globally. According to Moovit, at their peak in mid-April, the following cities saw steep declines in patrons: >75% in New York City; 50% in Seoul; 88% in Paris. We’re calling this “FOSS,” or “Fear of Shared Spaces,” and it’s a movement that leads us to a second new trend: “MUST,” or “Migration from Urban Settings.”

My team is tracking both as used cars fly off the lots, new car inventory slows, and city dwellers search for a way out. The Wall Street Journal reported that retailers sold 2.1 million used vehicles in May and June, a ~9% increase year-over-year despite COVID-19. We’ve reached an unprecedented crossroad as city-based companies offer flexible work schedules and people purchase cars to suit their newfound suburban lifestyles. Certainly a trend to keep our eyes on as it will impact auto preferences and demand.

The way we live our lives today is different than it was a year ago. As we continue to spend most of our time at home or trying to escape to a less-populous area, global industries are either suffering or benefiting from a new way of consumer interactivity. The auto industry will evolve post-COVID-19. Some trends will accelerate, others will decline or morph into something unexpected. Overall we can be confident it will be different, and innovation will be right in the middle of it all.