China’s Auto Industry in 2050

China has about 170 carmakers today, most of which produce fewer than 10,000 vehicles a year. That is unsustainable.

The market looks pretty much like American motor manufacturing in the early 1900s, so one could expect mass consolidation and a focus on manufacturing efficiency, right? Maybe not.

Here is my prediction of what the Chinese auto industry might look like in 2050:

By 2050, China has long passed the 100 million vehicle sales milestone — that party was in 2044. Eighty percent of those cars are electric, and all of them are largely self-driving.

Of the top 10 global car brands by sales volume, four are Chinese (Beijing Auto and VW are fighting it out year-after-year for the top spot), and China sells 20% of the cars it produces as exports, dominating the emerging auto markets of Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Middle East.

China is viewed as a technology innovator and gauge of future vehicle trends. The US has a single auto manufacturer, France has sold half its auto industry to China, and a premium-brand German automaker is under Chinese ownership.

So how exactly do we make that leap?

Three factors play into the transition of influence: the breakup of OEM joint ventures, consumer behavior, and technology investment.

Dismantling the successful joint-venture enterprises is a tough one. These cooperations between European or American carmakers and local Chinese car companies make big profits and are thus protected and favored by the local government.

However, Beijing sees them as counter-innovative and views the local car brands in turn becoming inefficient and non-competitive. The technology-sharing dynamic that was the spirit of the original agreements has not materialized, and the joint ventures are a short-term cash cow but a long-term strategic liability.

By forcing the local automakers to develop new brands to directly compete with their JV partners, we will start to see the breakup of the joint ventures from around 2020, and the emergence of three soon-to-be-global players: Geely, BYD, and Great Wall. But unlike US motor manufacturing history, consolidation is not the major factor in play here.

Secondly, consumer behavior is driving Chinese carmakers to differentiate at an accelerated rate in order to grab domestic market share.

This means that they are being forced to look beyond imitation and embrace innovation. The average car buyer in China is more than 20 years younger than the American equivalent, which means connected car technology, safety, on-board entertainment, and cool gadgets are increasingly expected rather than desired. Remote-start via cellphone, remote self-park, and wearable technology that controls vehicle function and also monitors driver biometrics are under development at all major Chinese carmakers.

While this is not necessarily leading tech in itself, if you look back a few years and plot innovation progress on a chart it would look exponential. So extrapolate this theoretical model to 2050 and compare it to the rest of the world.

The third element is investment choices.

China is making a few big technology bets, preferring to skip altogether the “catchup” on gasoline technology and diving straight into new energy vehicles.

The fast growing auto market opportunity, plus pressures to reduce emissions, and the economics of oil imports are driving this strategy. Government research money is pouring into carmakers, Tier 1 auto suppliers, and universities, all which are encouraged to collaborate among themselves and globally.

Visit any Chinese university that has a large automotive engineering department, and you will see it littered with a range of international test cars that have wires and batteries hanging out of them, running numerous research projects in conjunction with global carmakers. Add to this the likelihood that China will be among the first to invest in a nationwide network of charging stations, by necessity and through economic strategic intent, and all the elements that could lead to global leadership in new energy vehicles are appearing on the horizon.

Is this vision of the future going to be absolutely correct? No, certainly there are too many variables to precisely forecast how the global auto market will evolve. The only conclusion that can be drawn with any certainty is that this will probably all happen before 2050 — way before.

This article was originally published on EBN's sister publication EE Times .

12 comments on “China’s Auto Industry in 2050

  1. Himanshugupta
    June 27, 2014

    These predictions may or maynot be correct altogether but this is a nice to read article on how semiconductor companies are aligning to the greater need of infotainment and innovation in the automotive sector. By 2050 the oil prices will be so high that alternate fuel technology based engines can give a good competition to today's engines and i think that we will see more connected car concepts. What are other people's predictions?

    June 27, 2014

    I sure hope that China leads the world in energy efficient new car design.  If they do not then the rest of the world might start to cough severely by 2050.

  3. _hm
    June 27, 2014

    I do not call this a vision. Vision has many more strong attributes to support it. This looks more like just wild guess akin to mnay of gambling industries.


  4. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 28, 2014

    @_hm: China does have a great potential to becoming a major player in the auto industry by 2050 – that is in about 3 to 4 decades. I think that is doable.

  5. ahdand
    June 29, 2014

    They won't take such a long time to find alternate sources of energy. My guess is, they will find alternate sources of energy and perfect them by the end of the 2020's. By the 2050's we will be mostly using sunlight and other renewable sources of energy that are more greener and cleaner.

  6. ahdand
    June 29, 2014

    Maybe the design might not come from China but I am sure they will be the people to manufacture the design. There are a very few countries in the world that can compete with China's cost of labour. And by the 2050's they will be a superpower (they are still a great power) that everyone will turn in their direction whenever the world needs changing.

  7. ahdand
    June 29, 2014

    I recently read in one of Bill Gates's tweets that China has used more cement in the past three years than USA has used in the entire 20th century and 21st century. These are mind blowing statistics. It also had references to certain other unbelievable facts.

  8. ahdand
    June 29, 2014

    Why do you think that this is a bunch of wild guesses? I honestly think that there is something true here. China is dominating the world in every sphere possible and it will only be a matter of time before they play the forefront role in automobile industry.

  9. ahdand
    June 29, 2014

    In the past 6 decades, China has become the dominant player in almost every field. i think this scenario is completely possible.

  10. Himanshugupta
    June 29, 2014

    As far as finding the alternative source of energies is concerned then we are better of as we already have couple of them lined up but the big challenge is efficiency and storage. Right not these sources of energy cannot comptete with oil/gas due to many reason but soon that scenario will change.

  11. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 29, 2014

    2050 is a long time to predict how Auto inductry will evolve.


    My wild guess is that in another 20 years , We may have found an alternative to the earth itself – a place outside our mother earth where we can form new colonies to live .


    So a migration of population will start and they will use the virgin resources at this new place so much so that we will not be totally dependent on the ever depleting oil reserves and their control by OPEC.

    Using these new colonies outside earth we may be able to beam energy to our mother earth ( in what form I am not sure but it is likely to happen )




  12. _hm
    June 29, 2014

    You all need to get over myopic vision. By 2050, there may not be so called China. It may disintegrate and have multiple small countries.


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