The year of mobility 2021 in the U.S was rife with innovations in funding, electrification, decarbonisation, mobility, logistics and design. Writing for Auto Future has taken me for a ride through all the major trends in automotive, autonomy and mobility.
Virtual Events, Disinfection and New Sense of Scents
2021 started off while we were still under lockdown and the pandemic prevented big events, like CES, from being held in person. Trends at CES included innovations in battery technology, autonomous deliveries, autonomous trucking/mining, new electric vehicles and solar-powered vehicles.
Covid continues to be an issue in transport. To prevent the spread of the virus in vehicles, Inhalio has developed virucidal scents. To prevent disease – luxury ride service Alto Rides provides a plexiglass barrier between the driver and passengers, HVAC HEPA filtration and disinfection.
Alto’s orange-peel scent makes the service smell like a luxury hotel.
SPAC-Tacular Funding & Skyrocketing IPOs
The most widely covered trend for 2021 was the rise of the SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) with lots of SPAC-ulating by new automotive companies and new vehicle company IPOs (initial public offering).
The SPAC funded Canoo is led by CEO, Tony Aquila, who wants to bring back American pride with electric made-in-Arkansas canoos for ride-hailing and delivery.
Electric Last Miles Solutions went public by SPAC, producing plain white van-illa vans for last-mile deliveries. ELMS is led by Jim Taylor who likens the electrification to the wild west EV rodeo. He says, he is doing best deeds now to make up for all the gas-guzzlers he sold in his early years.
Another SPAC funded company, riding the waves is Fisker Inc. with the Fisker Ocean. I have interviewed Henrik Fisker for Auto Futures in the past and have met him and his wife Dr Geeta Gupta Fisker at several events. Their marriage is a true partnership.
Gupta Fisker revealed her vision of success for Fisker Inc. when she was a keynote speaker at TiEcon 2021. The close-to-production Fisker Ocean was on display at the LA Auto Show’s AutoMobility LA.
Mullen Automotive Inc, which went public with a SPAC in November, displayed the Mullen Five at the LA Auto Show in November.
After Rivian’s IPO in November, its stock price skyrocketed. Rivian adventure vehicles are displayed at the Rivian Venice Hub.
NIO’s IPO was in fall 2018. It is one of the electric vehicle makers that investors are watching. NIO has an international team of women working on its technology. NIO insider, Kris Tomasson explained how NIO design, branding and technology are contributing to its success.
Self-Driving Trends (with a Little Teleoperation and C-V2X on the Side)
All kinds of self-driving and autonomous features were being demonstrated and introduced in 2021.
At the beginning of 2021, ‘Disruptive Women Powering Our Autonomous Future” explored the concept that “mobility is freedom.” Speakers said that there are many opportunities for women in autonomous transport. The panellists noted that there is a need for diversity in the industry. They encouraged women from all backgrounds to use their intuitive skills and join the industry.
The trend for autonomously driven vehicles is permeating more aspects of moving objects. CEO of NVIDIA, Jensen Huang, at NVIDIA GTC said, “Eventually everything that moves will be autonomous.” Many Chinese automakers including NIO, IM and XPeng are relying on NVIDIA to power autonomous driving features.
On May 31, National Autonomous Vehicle Day, AVCC’s Tim Wong called for a common language for standards for autonomous computing.
There are many new solutions for autonomous transportation. Locomation offers an autonomous convoy that doubles up trucks and drivers. Gatik is providing shorter-haul, middle-mile autonomous deliveries for major retailers. Cyngn is powering autonomous industrial vehicles through a SaaS solution.
Autonomous driving will be enhanced by C-V2X (Cellular-Vehicle-to-Everything) connectivity. Autonomous features are being tested in the real-world at Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners.
There is a trend to supplement self-driving with teleoperation for forklifts, logistics and robots such as Phantom Auto. Faction Technology employs driverless AI, backed by teleoperation for short last-mile deliveries.
Better Batteries, Recycling and Charging
Along with the trend of electrification, there is a push for clean ways to make batteries and improve their performance. Nobel prize winner Stanley Whittingham was a panellist at an event where research showed that Niobium (Nb) can be used for stability, increased capacity, coatings and faster charging.
American Battery Technology Company is developing clean mining techniques and devised a way for de-manufacturing of Lithium-ion batteries.
Electric Trucks, Carts and More for Deliveries
There is a huge trend toward electrifying all kinds of delivery vehicles in different parts of the delivery supply chain from cargo carts up to large trucks. Auto Futures talked with BrightDrop‘s CEO, Travis Katz, about its ecosystem of electric delivery pallets, cloud software and trucks.
At the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo there were different classes of battery electric and hybrid trucks up to heavy-duty Class 8 trucks coming to market soon. Run on Less Electric, launched at the ACT Expo, proved that commercial electric trucks drive better and also help recruit new drivers during driver shortages.
A way to speed up the decarbonization of the dirty heavy-duty start and stop trucks is by retrofitting by Wrightspeed. For luxury pickup performance truck aficionados Hercules Mobility offers electric trucks with many customizable features.
New Types Electric Vehicles and Powertrains
There are more types of electric vehicles with different motors and wheel configurations and electric power permeating the market.
Indigo Technologies is working on new energy and cost-efficient electric vehicles with magic carpet rides. Ayro‘s configurable low-speed electric trucks are a cost-effective solution for college campuses, food service and logistics.
Vehicle electrification is not just for business. They are also being designed for fun, commuting and can be solar-powered. In the U.S. in resort and beach communities neighbourhood electric vehicles (NEVs) and low-speed vehicles (LSVs) are being used for local drives and to avoid parking nightmares.
Aptera will be offering a solar-powered three-wheel electric vehicle for commuting and local travel.
E-bikes are increasingly becoming a low-cost transportation and also are attracting fan communities. ROKit Made makes affordable e-bikes for everybody while Super73 has celebrity influencer users and fans who like to party and go on wild rides.
Innovation in Tires
Every year millions of tires are discarded. SMART Tire has developed tires that can’t go flat. Ground tires in rubber modified asphalt improve roads and increase fuel economy.
More Women Designers and Diversity?
One of my favourite parts of my job is interviewing visionaries and influencers in the automotive industry. The most delightful interviews I did all year were with women automotive designers for International Women’s Day. Their talent is inspiring. They bring a fresh look to the field of automotive design.
It was good to see female designer recent ArtCenter graduate, Emi Taniguchi, who is now working at Honda in Japan, win the concept design project from Lincoln. Her exterior design garnered attention from major media outlets at the LA Auto Show.
There is a trend of more women getting into mobility industries. I hope mobility will embrace people of all ethnicities and genders in the future.
Happy Holidays! I look forward to a new year of innovation and exciting new trends and technologies in 2022.