Electric dominates trends, but auto execs see fuel cells as the future

Battery electric vehicles were seen as the key trend for the upcoming year, according to a survey of international automotive executives by the audit, tax, and advisory firm KPMG. But a majority of these respondents felt that fuel cell vehicles are better suited for the current infrastructure and will become a more dominant choice for emissions-free driving.

KPMG surveyed nearly 1,000 senior executives from automotive companies in 42 countries. The report included predictions on issues such as fuels, vehicle ownership, data use, and autonomous vehicles. In addition to the executives, 2,400 consumers were surveyed.

"The game has changed for automakers, as cars have evolved into rolling computers and consumers have been quick to embrace autonomy, connectivity and mobility-on-demand," said Gary Silberg, KPMG's automotive sector leader. "A car is no longer defined by its utility, it is defined by the experience it provides to the driver and passenger – and that opens a tremendous pipeline for new revenue streams and business services that KPMG projects could top $1 trillion in the next decade or so."

Half of the executives polled said they think electric vehicles will be an extremely important trend in 2017. This edged out connectivity and digitalization, which 49 percent thought would be extremely important, and fuel cell electric vehicles, which 47 percent thought would be extremely important.

Despite the expectation that electric vehicles will be a popular trend, the majority of executives thought this type of vehicle would not catch on due to shortcomings in the infrastructure, such as a lack of charging stations. Forty percent said they partially agreed with this statement, while 22 percent said they absolutely agree with it. Twenty percent were neutral, and 18 percent partially or absolutely disagreed.

By contrast, 78 percent of executives said they partially or absolutely agreed with the idea that fuel cell vehicles will provide a mobility breakthrough. Sixteen percent were neutral, while 6 percent partially or absolutely disagreed.

The report says manufacturers who are making electric vehicles are currently faced with challenges such as making batteries cheaper and more efficient, speeding up recharging times, and ensuring that there are adequate facilities to recharge. KPMG says fuel cell vehicles have the potential to be refueled quickly at a traditional gas station, but that the technology will face new challenges such as cooling and safely storing hydrogen in a vehicle.

Recent research from Stanford University notes how both electric and fuel cell vehicles produce no emissions when driven, but that both rely on non-renewable energy sources to produce hydrogen fuel or recharge batteries. That study suggested that electric vehicle infrastructure would ultimately be better suited for reducing the energy use in communities as well as vehicles.

In the KPMG report, most executives said they think internal combustion engines will continue to be important for a long time. Seventy-six percent partially or absolutely agreed with this statement, while 12 percent were neutral and 12 percent disagreed.

However, most executives considered that diesel will be the first fuel to be abandoned by automakers. The report says that while diesel may be the only viable option for vehicles like heavy trucks for some time, 53 percent said they believe diesel is on its way out. Twenty-five percent disagreed, and 23 percent were neutral.

The executives anticipated a number of shifts in the automotive industry in the coming years, with 83 percent expecting a major disruption. Sixty-eight percent said they think the traditional purchasing criteria will become irrelevant when autonomous vehicles become more common. Sixty percent of consumers agreed that their only concern when buying a self-driving vehicle would be how they could spend their time during the trip.

The advances toward self-driving vehicles have also raised the possibility that people will no longer need to own their own vehicle, but can choose when to hail an autonomous vehicle for a trip. Fifty-nine percent of executives, but only 35 percent of consumers, agreed that half of today's current vehicle owners will not want to own a vehicle in 2025.

Eighty-five percent of executives said they believe that the data-based model of a vehicle's digital ecosystem will generate more revenue than the vehicle's hardware. Seventy-six percent agreed that connected vehicles will be able to generate more revenue than 10 non-connected vehicles.

Eighty-four percent of executives agreed that data will be the driving force of the automotive industry's future business model. But while consumers were most likely to consider that they were the owners of consumer and vehicle data, executives were more likely to consider that the manufacturer would own the data.

Fifty-eight percent of consumers in the survey said they would be willing to share their data. However, 84 percent said they would want direct monetary benefits in exchange for this information.

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