Feature: Four Takeaways from the Center of Automotive Research 2019 Conference


For more than 50 years, the Center of Automotive Research has brought together thought leaders in the auto industry—those representing not only OEMs and suppliers, but service providers, academics, media, the government, as well as new technology and mobility stakeholders.

I’ve attended the conference since 2018. This year, in the role of automotive business development manager for Avery Dennison Performance Tapes, I went in looking for broad insights into the current state and future of the automotive industry. I also had an eye toward opportunities for tape converters, and others working with pressure-sensitive adhesive products.

Here are four items I took away from the 2019 event:

1. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are coming, but not as quickly as once predicted - AVs are receiving a lot of buzz in the media. The fact is several major OEMs have committed to their development. Wayne Powell of Toyota stated it’s his company’s moral obligation to make vehicles that “Don’t hit anything, don’t get hit, and don’t run off the road.”  

Yes, the industry is working to develop the tech needed to make cars reliably and safely drive themselves. But it seems the introduction and adoption of vehicles with autonomous tech might still be a way off. At the 2018 conference, I sensed many experts were thinking two to three years. At this year’s event, that sense was more like five to 10 years. 

In his presentation, for instance, Farid Khairallah of ZF outlined the variety of technologies — sensors, actuators, and computers — that need much more development work before they can meet or exceed the competence of a human driver. This work is happening, but it won’t be finished overnight. 

2. Electrification is happening fast, and it’s adding significant costs to vehicles - The electrification of the powertrain will continue to accelerate through the 2020s. According to a presentation by Dr. Uwe D. Grebe of AVL, 41% of U.S. vehicles will be electrified by 2030, with 10.5% being full battery or fuel cell electric. His predicted growth in Europe is even more astonishing: By 2030, nearly 100% of cars will be electrified, with 31% battery or fuel cell electric.

This will, however, add significant cost to vehicles: $1,100 to $5,600 per vehicle, depending on the type of electrification. This is according to a report by Max Warburton at the firm Sanford C. Bernstein, as reported in Automotive News.

3. In the EU, electrification may mean the “death” of the small vehicle … as we know it - The electrification revolution in Europe is being driven largely by new emissions rules. Automakers will need to reduce their fleet average emissions from 120.5 g/km CO2 to 95 g/km CO2; it’s expected they’ll leverage electrification to achieve this. 

A potential way to address the rules might be for automakers to sell more partial electric (hybrid) vehicles, adding the technology to existing models. But these models are already sold at small margins. The added tech would either force their price above what the consumer is willing to pay, or make them dramatically unprofitable for companies to produce. 

The more likely solution is full electrification. Fiat, one of Europe’s leading carmakers, will launch its battery-electric 500 model on an all new platform. Volkswagen and Renault have existing global EV platforms as well. These are just two examples of EU automakers heading down this path. These vehicles will be priced much higher than small internal combustion versions, but we can expect those costs to drop as BEVs become more widespread. A recent article in Automotive News, “Europe’s small cars an endangered species” looks at this in greater depth.

4. Developing new technologies requires massive investments; collaboration will be key - This future state of an increasingly electrified, autonomous, worldwide fleet will require massive investments in technology. Volkswagen AG has more than 12% of global car market share, owning Audi, Porsche, and Bentley, in addition to the flagship VW brand. It plans to invest $50 billion in electrification technology by 2023, along with a $2 billion investment in U.S. charging stations. This is according to a presentation by Reinhard Fischer of Volkswagen. He also stated the company plans to launch 70 new electric models globally by 2028.

But not every company has the ability to invest like Volkswagen. As Ian Simmons of Magna International pointed out, many industry players will be forced to look outside their own walls, entering into collaborative efforts to achieve scale on developing these expensive technologies. 

One more takeaway: I believe we’ve only scratched the surface of opportunities for pressure-sensitive adhesive products in the automotive industry. 

The development and growth of electrified and AV vehicles will bring with it countless engineering challenges. How to save weight. How to insulate and manage heat. How to minimize NVH issues in vehicles without the low-frequency powertrain white noise of an internal combustion engine. How to address these and other challenges in ways that are cost effective.

Pressure-sensitive, adhesive-based products offer real and potential solutions for all of the challenges I’ve listed here. Avery Dennison Performance Tapes has a broad portfolio of pressure- sensitive products; many of which are compliant with OEM specs. These are backed by technical support and service programs designed to promote growth. 

We have a track record of success in the industry. I’m confident that track record will grow as we move together toward this dynamic future.

About the author:

Michael VanHaerents is an automotive segment business development manager for Avery Dennison Performance Tapes. He leverages 17 years of adhesive and sealant engineering and program management experience in the automotive industry to help build strategic relationships, create product specifications, and build new technology portfolios for new and existing adhesive and tape applications. Based in the Detroit area, he can be reached at michael.vanhaerents@averydennison.com, and welcomes your connection on LinkedIn