Michael Robinet, executive director at auto industry analysis and forecasting firm IHS Markit, is tracking the new acceleration and what it will mean to automaking.
Robinet believes that a fundamental change is taking place in the industry. It is not merely that companies are striving to do things faster because they can — it's that new industry competition is requiring all the players to accelerate, and the changing nature of how vehicles are being designed and engineered and placed into production will alter the industry's long-standing assumptions about project timetables in the decade ahead.
In other words, new competitors are crowding into the marketplace and they are in go-fast mode. And the introduction of new electric vehicle platforms across the industry will mean that automakers can spin off model variations easier and faster than in the past, requiring suppliers and vendors to jump to the task to keep pace.
"The next few years are going to be very busy with the cadence of new models and a plethora of new battery-electric models coming off of new BEV platforms," Robinet told Automotive News. "Therein lies the new challenge for the industry. We anticipate that there will be a longer cadence for the new platforms themselves — but a faster cadence for midcycle changes and variations."
Today, a traditional platform might yield a sedan and a crossover and maybe a coupe, while an SUV has a higher shoulder height than a sedan, with a different front engine box. Such platforms typically run for six or seven years between major changes.
But Robinet believes the new EV platforms that are coming will permit significant model changes to be executed without altering the architecture they have in common. Automakers will more easily be able to change the width and length of models, or undertake different wheelbases with less expense and fuss because it will not involve an engine in the front. Different body styles can be added onto a common EV platform. Battery sizes can be altered without significant disruption.
As a result, new programs will be undertaken more frequently and faster than in the past, adding to the task list that suppliers and engineers have before them.
"When was the last time the auto industry had the chance to redefine its footprint?" Robinet asked. "The way we build vehicles is changing. The logistics of where powertrains are being sourced is changing. Global engine plants won't be the solution in the era of EV batteries. Everything will need to be closer and more immediate, and capable of responding faster.
"Suppliers will have to change their own footprint to supply these platforms," Robinet said. "So there is a new urgency for companies to determine what role they're going to play and to get into position to do that very urgently."