Automotive > Powertrain, Body, Chassis & Safety Blog

Looking Back on 25 Years

by Ian Riches | 3月 25, 2021

Today, 25th March 2021, marks my 25th anniversary of joining Strategy Analytics.  A lot has changed in those 25 years – not least the colour of my hair – but also a lot has stayed the same.

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I’ve always loved cars.  My parents joke that whilst most kids were shouting “cat!” or “dog!” as some of their first words, I was pointing excitedly and exclaiming “Ford!” or “Triumph!”.  (It was the 1970s: any youngsters will have to Google what a “Triumph” was.  Unfortunately, the name proved inversely-prophetic.)

That interest led me to study engineering at university, land a short internship at low-volume sportscar-maker TVR, and then start my career writing for Automotive Engineer, published by the IMechE in the UK.

After a brief hiatus outside of the automotive industry, I then interviewed for a research firm called BIS Strategic Decisions.  By the time I had joined, it had been bought by Gideon Gartner and re-named Giga Information Group.  That all became a bit messy, and Strategy Analytics was swiftly and successfully born out of the chaos. 

My previous job as a technical journalist had served me well – but even that experience couldn’t fully prepare me for the breadth and depth of topics that I would be researching and analysing for clients.

When I look back at some of those reports that my colleagues and I wrote in 1996 and 1997, many of the subjects would not be out of place on a 2021 research agenda.  They included:

  • Component Opportunities in Autonomous Intelligent Cruise Control
  • Trends for Discrete Power MOSFETs
  • The Market for Vehicle Occupant-Sensing Technologies
  • Electric & Electric-Hybrid vehicles
  • In-Car Networking
  • Navigation and Vehicle Information Systems

The Market for Vehicle Occupant-Sensing Technologies“CASE” may not yet have been coined as an acronym, but the early work on “Connected”, “Automated” and “Electrified” mass-market vehicles was already very evident, even if “shared” was yet to come as a global trend (although VW did launch a German car-sharing scheme in 1997!).

It is this long-term nature of the automotive industry, and the fact that many ideas take years, if not decades, to come to their full potential that has led me to coin what I’ve started referring to my “Theory of Peak Analyst”.

At the beginning of their career, an analyst’s in-built bias will be to over-forecast everything.  All ideas look “new and shiny”.  Nothing is tainted by past failures.  Marketing departments speak only the truth.  All press releases come with a built-in guarantee that things will unfold precisely as they predict.

Ten to fifteen years of experience probably brings you to your peak as an analyst, at least in terms of intuitively being able to assess the prospects for a new technology accurately.

However, after 25 years, I now need to admit that my in-built bias is more towards under-forecasting.  It’s rare to find a technology or announcement that, at least in some small measure, doesn’t sound reminiscent of something that didn’t work 15 years ago.  You carry the scars of forecasts-gone-wrong.

So, am I past it? 

Far from it.  The best faults to have are those that you are acutely aware of.  In addition, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a great team that encompasses both the enthusiasm and energy of youth as well as some older-and-wiser heads than mine.  Team will truly succeed where the individual fails.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that my 1997 forecast for electrified vehicles was wrong. Very wrong.  I placed way too much weight on the legislation being brought in by bodies such as CARB to mandate “Zero emissions vehicles”, and severely under-estimated the auto industry’s ability to lobby and fight back.

In my defence, however, my forecast was less wrong than many, and not overly popular at the time.  I still remember one very challenging meeting in Tokyo where, within the strict bounds of Japanese politeness, we were dismissed from the room by a group of angry executives who just couldn’t believe that the xEV market wasn’t going to be much larger, much quicker than we were saying.

Other forecasts were much more successful, as was our insight into business and technology trends.  Right from the early days of in-vehicle navigation we were warning about the danger to built-in units that came from phone-based systems.  We were pointing to the looming dark cloud before the “cloud” even became a term.  Our review of the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show stated that

The profile of in-car CD-ROM based navigation systems was not significantly higher than at other recent shows, but a new generation of lower-cost, GSM-based units were much in evidence, along with the service providers who will supply the information.”

We may not have exactly predicted Android Auto (hard as it is to believe, Google had not yet been founded) – but we did point to the future of navigation as a service, not as a piece of dedicated hardware.

However, perhaps the biggest question of the day is if/when fully automated driving will become a mainstream technology, used by the majority of us on a daily basis.  Our current scenarios suggest that this won’t occur before the 2030s at the earliest, and is most likely a 2040+ proposition for truly mass-market penetration.  I need to recognise by own built-in biases here, as already noted, but am still shaped by an industry that saw xEV models still in low single-digit market share in 2020, more that 20 years after Toyota launched Prius and GM produced the EV1.

I think autonomous WILL come.  Its impact will be so revolutionary on our lives that (assuming it can be implemented safely and at reasonable cost) there is no reason it will not succeed.  xEV technologies have always had to fight against improved gasoline and diesel models, along with the seeming indifference of the human race to its own slow destruction.

Short of teleportation becoming a reality, autonomous competes only with our own desire to sit in traffic jams, unable to legally do anything more useful than pound the steering wheel in frustration.  That’s hardly a fair fight.  It truly has the potential to impact our current transportation world as much as the Model T Ford did that of the horse and carriage.

But I might have to wait another 25 years to see that vision reach its maturity.

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