This has been a big year for the automotive industry. One could arguably call 2015 the year of strides in autonomous technology. Tesla released its auto pilot program, Ford received permission to begin testing Autonomous cars on California roads, Google cars are still roaming about, and Toyota has even announced that it is about to unveil new map generation software – a feat that will help establish the basis for fully autonomous cars. A lot of automakers have also improved their semi-autonomous technology over previous years, making things like automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and automatic parking available on a large number of vehicles and usable by the masses.

Technology aside, we’ve seen some automakers fall from the podium (the Volkswagen scandal anyone?) and others come back to life with a vengeance. Things like fuel economy and horsepower are starting to go hand-in-hand, at least when compared to a decade ago. So, this raises the question: What will 2016 bring for the automotive world? Will we see huge new strides in technology development, or how about a plethora of all-electric vehicles that actually have a usable range? Will Volkswagen survive the biggest emissions scandal ever, or will VAG fall apart piece by piece?

Well, the future comes one day at a time, so we can’t answer these questions with certainty. We can, however, speculate a little and make some educated guesses based on what we’ve seen in 2015 and the years before. Either way, the world is ever changing, and the automotive industry is changing just as much. We might not end up with a bunch of flying cars by the end of next year, but I bet we’ll be a few steps closer. That said, let’s make some predictions for the year to come. If you’re up for it, drop us a line in the comments section and let us know what you think 2016 will hold for the auto industry.

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Technology

Toyota Will Present New Map Generation System At 2016 CES
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Technology is constantly advancing, seemingly by the day. I don’t expect to see any major strides in technology, at least nothing to the extent of converting to fully autonomous cars in 2016. I do think, however, that by the time 2017 models start hitting dealerships, we’ll see more advances in autonomous technology. I expect that manufacturers will further improve automatic braking systems and active cruise control systems. Once Toyota’s new map generation techniques take off, it will likely enable a number of new models to drive autonomously on certain stretches of highway or road. The Tesla Model S already has this capability to an extent, but it’s currently nowhere near being as dependable as it needs to be. At this point, that functionality is more of a novelty.

Other technologies like voice recognition and hand gesture controls (like we see in the BMW 7 Series) will be streamlined and available on several models from various manufacturers. By the end of 2016, I suspect that even more cars will have 4G connectivity. With any hope, that connectivity will enable all new vehicles to receive traffic, weather, and road condition updates immediately to their on-board infotainment systems in real time. These advances will be important because fully autonomous cars, which should be around by the end of the decade, will rely on these types of things.

Electric Vehicles

2016 Nissan Leaf High Resolution Drivetrain
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Hybrid and electric vehicles have taken the world by storm, and in 2015 alone, even more manufacturers have announced that they have an electric vehicle in the works. At this point, most electric vehicles have a pretty limited distance – the 2016 Nissan Leaf, for instance, has a range of just 107 miles, while models like the BMW i3 can go about 150 with range-extending batteries. Gasoline electric hybrid models have much less, normally in the 20- to 40-mile range on battery power alone.

I predict that 2016 will bring us even more electric hybrids, with advances in technology allowing cars like the Leaf and the i3 to hit distances of 230 miles or more – a range that is more in line with cars like Tesla’s Model S or Model X. Hybrid electric vehicles will be able to obtain distances closer to 125 miles on battery power alone. This technology will likely debut in 2017 models before the end of 2016, and will be the next big step in making electric vehicles more feasible for the majority of the population. With an all-electric range of 100 miles or so, hybrid electric vehicles will actually make sense, and become a viable option for a lot more people. Until now, paying the extra money for a hybrid electric didn’t make sense, if your commute took you more that 40 or 50 miles a day.

The Volkswagen Scandal

Volkswagen Diesel Scandal Explained
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What initially seemed to be a scandal affecting just a few models turned out to affect millions of cars globally and has tarnished the Volkswagen name for years to come. Since the scandal went public back in September, lots of changes have been made – management has been restructured, executives have resigned, and VW has said it will even rotate positions within the company for accountability purposes. At last count, the company had set aside nearly $10 billion to cover costs of the scandal, but some analysts are saying that costs will climb much high than that. So what will 2016 bring for the tarnished company?

Well, VW has already killed off its “Das Auto” motto, and I think 2016 will bring even more change to the company. The company has already withdrawn its application to sell vehicles equipped with the 2.0-liter Diesel in 2016, and in the last month, VW saw a sales decrease to the tune of 25 percent. The coming year is likely to bring even more damage to the company, as I suspect (and agree with some analysts) that the company will be forced to sell off assets to cover the ever increasing costs associated with the scandal. I doubt we’ll see Audi, Porsche or Bugatti hit the sales floor, but you can bet smaller assets like Volkswagen’s MAN just might find itself listed in the classifieds. It’s also likely that we’ll see VW make changes to brands like Bentley, Lamborghini, and Ducati as well, even if those brands are said to be somewhat insignificant to the company as a whole.

By the time 2016 comes to a close, I suspect VAG will be a bit smaller than it was this year, and I have a feeling its sales will continue to suffer for years to come. It was one of the biggest auto manufacturers in the world, and it got there – at least in part – by deceiving customers and boasting “clean diesels” that weren’t really clean. This is exactly what happens when you give a large company trust in a non-trustworthy world. The result? VW will never regain the public trust it has lost, and 2016 will be a very rough year for the company. I don’t think the company will end up in bankruptcy in 2016, but it will struggle financially for a long time.

Conclusion

I could elaborate for days on what each manufacturer might do in the coming year, or how things will turn out with vehicles introduced this year, but I thought it was more important to focus on technology, electric vehicles, and that ridiculous Volkswagen scandal. At the end of the day, these things will overshadow anything else the new year brings.

Most manufacturers released a lot of redesigned models for the 2016 model year, so I think 2016 will be more about regrouping for most manufacturers as they plan their next big moves. We may see a few new cars hit the showroom in 2016, but it won’t be anything like 2015. As we move closer to 2020 manufacturers will gently refine their lineups to prepare for the next decade when things will really be changing.

Over the next few years, manufacturers will be focusing more on electric and autonomous vehicles more than anything. I suspect most changes In the next year or two will happen behind the scenes as manufacturers try to figure out how to integrate future technology into cars and platforms that are already in use. That, I think, will be the biggest challenge for manufacturers in the next year – preparing for the near future and all the change it has in store.

What do you think?
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