2021 predictions: car industry leaders forecast the year ahead

Our former Brit List winners exclusively predict what 2021 will look like for the car industry

The  past 12 months have seen unprecedented shifts in human behaviour, with enormous disruption in everything from the airline industry to public transport and working life. 

The car industry hasn’t escaped the turmoil of Covid-19, with factory and dealership closures coming at the same time as increased demand for electric vehicles and different buying patterns from customers, many of whom no longer feel the need to visit the showroom before signing up for a new car.

How has the industry reacted to these shifts? And will the trends continue as we move into 2021? Here, we put those questions to four members of our Brit List Hall of Fame – all experienced executives rated at the top of our annual rundown of the most senior UK representatives in the global car industry.

Andy Palmer

Our first Hall of Fame inductee in 2012, the ex-Aston Martin boss is now CEO of Palmer Automotive.

How do you think the global car industry can recover in 2021?

“Automotive historians may look back on this time as the turning point away from the internal combustion engine (ICE) and towards the mass-adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and other alternative clean-energy vehicles. The onus is on car manufacturers to adapt to these changes and seize the opportunity.”

Covid-19 has caused a number of shifts in customer behaviour. Were there any that you found particularly notable?

“When I was developing and launching the Nissan Leaf in 2008-2010, the product was considered left-field by customers and derided by the industry. The customer attitude to EVs 10 years later has transformed.”

What do you think are the biggest challenges that EVs and the push towards electrification will face in 2021?

“EVs should not be considered as the only solution for new-energy vehicles. We should not rule out hydrogen fuel cells for HGVs and synthetic fuels for sports cars, drones, planes, etc.

“Also, the UK must invest in battery gigaplants, and lead its own chemistry development rather than licensing it from Asia. If we fail to attract investment in batteries, we will lose our domestic car industry within a decade.”

Which trends from 2020 are we going to see continuing, or even accelerating, as we head through 2021?

“Keep an eye on the ‘last-mile’ transport. Whether it’s urban buses, transportation for logistic companies, shared transport, taxis or e-scooters, this promises to be the next global battleground, with multiple players vying for supremacy, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.”

Ian Robertson

Inducted in 2013 while at BMW, Robertson now sits on the board of home appliance maker Dyson.

How do you think the global car industry can recover in 2021?

“Whenever there’s been a crisis of some form over the years, the car manufacturers have emerge at the other side stronger, more motivated and more driven to succeed. This won’t necessarily apply to all areas of the business, but I do think that the majority will have embraced the opportunities with a clear focus on the future.”

Covid-19 caused shifts in customer behaviour. Were there any that you found particularly notable?

“The digitalisation of the customer interaction has taken another big step forward, while still evolving the roles and responsibilities within the customer journey. This will continue to develop and cover new areas like servicing, with more and more moving online.”

What do you think are the biggest challenges that EVs and the push towards electrification will face in 2021?

“The ongoing big issue for Government is to motivate and support the charging infrastructure across the wider country as well in the homes of the customers. While this is a chicken-and-egg story, incentives will play a significant role in the customer acceptance, as well as milestone targets such as the ones just announced for 2030 and 2035.”

Which trends from 2020 are we going to see continuing, or even accelerating, as we head through 2021?

“2020 saw a much better balance between supply and demand, with many factories forced to close across the world. In many ways this has been good for the manufacturers, the dealers and the customers, because pricing stabilised and the used-car market strengthened. The challenge is to maintain this as a discipline, with a tempering of the focus on volume.”

Linda Jackson

Former CItroen boss is now playing a crucial role managing brand identities at PSA Group.

Linda Jackson

How do you think the global car industry can recover in 2021?

“2020 has certainly been a challenge. To recover, the industry needs to be extremely responsive in reacting and changing processes to adapt to this new environment. I think that the pandemic has shown that Groupe PSA is a very agile business where our priority has been to protect the health of employees and ensure the sustainability of the business by putting the right energy in the right place at the right time.”

Covid-19 caused a number of shifts in customer behaviour. Were there any that you found particularly notable?

“Customers have been more willing to transact online and I’m delighted that our digital teams were able to deliver end-to-end online sales systems across our brands.”

What do you think are the biggest challenges that EVs and the push towards electrification will face in 2021?

“With lockdown in many countries, people enjoyed the experience of reduced emissions. This and the various governments’ objectives to reduce CO2 emissions have increased awareness and demand for electric vehicles. I’m very proud that Groupe PSA has achieved the stringent CAFE [CO2 emissions] objectives this year.”

Which trends from 2020 are we going to see continuing, or even accelerating, as we head through 2021?

“Without doubt, electrification and transacting online. And despite the pandemic, I do believe that there remains a need for shared mobility solutions. We have ambitions for a full range of mobility services for all.”

Steven Armstrong

Our most recent inductee is currently at the helm of Ford’s Changan operation in China.

How do you think the global car industry can recover in 2021?

“The rate of recovery will vary by region and by segment. For example, here in China we have already seen a strong recovery, led by the higher-priced premium and near-premium segments, whose customers were less impacted economically by the effects of the epidemic.”

Covid-19 caused a number of shifts in customer behaviour. Were there any that you found particularly notable?

“What I did find interesting was that we saw customers wanting to feel “safe” in their own space, so we found ways to provide more reassurance for customers in their vehicles, with obvious things like air purification filters but also by explaining the other active safety technologies they have.”

What do you think are the biggest challenges that EVs and the push towards electrification will face in 2021?

“The lack of investment in infrastructure. As the vehicles on offer improve their range, traditional range anxiety will be replaced with charge-point anxiety. There is still a lot to do to support the transition in the time frames being suggested. Vehicle manufacturers clearly have a role to play, but the governments need to step up their support, too.”

Which trends from 2020 are we going to see continuing, or even accelerating, as we head through 2021?

“I think the shift to online will continue. It’s too soon to call the death of the motor show but it is clear that the old approach to shows and vehicle launches has passed its prime. Manufacturers have found more efficient ways to target audiences and share messages in a crowded world.”

Duncan Aldred

Our 2018 winner, Aldred leads GM’s Buick and GMC divisions, and is overseeing the return of Hummer as an EV.

Duncan Aldred

After a turbulent 2020, how do you think the global car industry can recover over the next 12 months?

“From a China perspective the industry has recovered to pre pandemic levels. Similarly in the USA, the industry has now recovered to monthly run rates that are amongst the best in history. We expect this to continue into 2021.

“We have also seen a shift in the mix of sales with full size pick-up trucks as a percent of the retail industry growing to record levels. The GMC Sierra full size pick-up has just set a new all time sales record with two weeks to go... and we have been making trucks for over 100 years!  Average transaction prices have also recovered and are now at record levels.

“SUVs remain strong and sedans continue to weaken. EV’s are definitely growing, Hummer EV has garnered huge interest and pre orders. It is expected that the new administration will accelerate the transition to EV and GM will be in the forefront of that, pursuing our vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.”

The pandemic caused a number of dramatic shifts in customer behaviour. Were there any you found particularly surprising or notable?

“We did see more customers shop online and complete more of the transaction online. This sets a trend for the future as online capability and legislation changes to facilitate more online sales and home deliveries.  It remains a small percentage today but the trend is definitely there to see.

“The most surprising trends in the USA was the increased shift to pick-up trucks, the sustained level of demand and the higher transaction prices that have been achieved. As people had less places to spend their money due to lockdowns, a significant portion of that money definitely came to the new vehicle business.”

The push for electrification seems to have real momentum now. What do you think are the biggest challenges that EVs will face next year?

“The transition is happening and I am bullish about the adoption rates both in North America and China. The new administration in the USA will only accelerate that transition. The barriers are similar to those that existed when I was in Europe - charging infrastructure and associated range anxiety. Also a significant barrier will be affordability. As vehicles begin to be priced closer to internal combustion engines I expect adoption to rise rapidly.”

Car sharing schemes were being touted as the 'next big thing' before the pandemic struck. Do you still think there's a future for shared mobility services, even after the Covid scare? 

“I believe covid will significantly impact this for a considerable time. Similarly public transport will be affected.  This will lead to increases in alternative forms of transportation including new and used vehicles.”

Which trends from 2020 are we going to see continuing, or even accelerating, as we head through 2021?

“EV adoption, online transactions and home delivery.”

What are your predictions for 2021 in the automotive world? Have your say in the comments...

Most Popular

New 2022 Range Rover leaks: first look at new Land Rover flagship SUV
Range Rover leak - front
Land Rover Range Rover

New 2022 Range Rover leaks: first look at new Land Rover flagship SUV

Images of what could be the next Range Rover have appeared on social media ahead of next week’s reveal
21 Oct 2021
New Michelin Uptis airless tyre blows in ahead of 2024 launch
Michelin Uptis
News

New Michelin Uptis airless tyre blows in ahead of 2024 launch

The new airless Michelin Uptis is made from rubber and fibreglass and promises to be longer lasting, fuel-saving and recyclable
20 Oct 2021
New Kia EV6 2021 review
Kia EV6 front tracking
Kia EV6

New Kia EV6 2021 review

With a sporty drive, 300-plus miles of range and plenty of tech - could the new Kia EV6 be one of the best electric cars on sale?
19 Oct 2021