Automobile manufacturers and their suppliers are making huge investments in partnerships and acquisitions so they’re ready to produce tomorrow’s vehicles. Whether you think that mass adoption of self-driving cars is right around the corner, or – as we firmly believe – still well beyond the horizon, it’s indisputable that the decisions being made today will have a profound impact on the structure of the industry far into the future. There may be disagreement about when the car of the future will arrive, but there is a common vision of it as connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE). However, there is still little consensus on how the automotive industry of the future will be structured. What is certain is that disruptive changes are in store.
Trade conflicts, policy uncertainty and an unsure economic outlook are driving concern among global corporate leaders sharply higher across all industries, according to PwC’s 22nd Annual CEO Survey. That uncertainty about today is heightening uncertainty about tomorrow for many auto companies. The need to balance resilience in the present and readiness for the future is top of mind for many executives in the industry. Nonetheless, the strategy currently being pursued by many in the sector—i.e., expanding across the value chain by partnering with or acquiring companies specializing in AV technology or pushing into fleet management—is a risky proposition.
Though their ongoing investments in electric vehicles (EVs) may be well-timed to satisfy shifting consumer and regulator demand for cleaner cars, outsized spending on AV development is likely driven by two complementary impulses. These are, on the one hand, a belief that companies that push decisively into the AV space early will be best positioned to tap its massive potential, and, on the other, the fear that opportunities will be scarce for those who are left behind. Automakers’ stated intent may be to gain some measure of control over highly unpredictable future costs, or secure a stable or growing share of industry profit amid the rise of self-driving vehicles, but the odds are good that many of these investments will prove distracting or worse.