Which Car Brands Are Shaking Up the Auto Industry? 

Which Car Brands Are Shaking Up the Auto Industry

Auto manufacturing has radically changed over the past two decades, driven by technological advancements and environmental challenges, such as climate change and the global pandemic. The impact of these factors has infused fresh competition and opportunities for ‘coopetition,’ in which manufacturers are creating strategic partnerships to seize new solutions, speed to market, and competitive advantages. For example, partnerships with technology companies are enabling the integration of automation, machine learning, robotics, and other solutions into nearly all aspects of today’s vehicles.  

What are the top car brands today, and which ones are at the front of the innovation curve? Which ones are responding fastest to environmental issues and mandates? Let’s look at some of the movers and shakers and how they are outpacing other companies. 

The leading carmakers worldwide 

According to Statista, in 2021, the ranking of the world’s largest car brands was topped by Toyota. Owned by Japan’s Toyota Motor Corporation, the world’s largest motor vehicle manufacturer, the brand surpassed the 2020 incumbent, the Volkswagen Group. By brand, here is global market share across the top 10 in 2021: 

Toyota: 10.5%

Volkswagen: 6.4%

Honda: 5.3%

Ford: 5%

Hyundai: 4.7%

Nissan: 4.6%

Chevrolet: 4.4%

Kia: 3.6%

Mercedes: 3%

BMW: 2.7%

Car sales worldwide dipped between 2019 and 2020 due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. In 2021, sales rallied but were still below 2019 levels. The U.S. automobile industry sold an estimated 14,471,800 million cars and light truck vehicles in 2020. Globally, more than 77.6 million vehicles were produced in 2020, with the United States ranking only behind China in total vehicle production. By the end of 2021, China was the largest automobile market based on new passenger car registrations, recording close to 20 million units sold. It was followed by the United States and Europe.  

Does bigger mean better? Key trends expected in the coming years are an increase in the number of electric vehicles sold and a more competitive market beyond the largest manufacturers. According to McKinsey & Company, incumbents will need to commit to bolder change to keep pace with new tech-led, data-rich electric vehicle manufacturers, leaping from technology-centric product development to customer-centric innovation. 

So, who are today’s true disruptors? Newsweek has lifted the tarp… 

In April 2022, Newsweek shared the results and recipients of its World’s Greatest Auto Disruptors awards. They asked America’s automakers to submit nominations from within their ranks. Then they studied a year’s worth of infotainment, powertrain, platform, marketing, business, and other advances to identify the accomplishments that are driving fundamental, transformative change in the automotive market.  

One thing is clear in the results: Modern manufacturing is not just about how cars handle, how they look, their cost, and whether they’re comfortable and safe. As Newsweek points out, innovation is extending into sustainability, mobility, alternative fuels, and a digital future. Autos are becoming entertainment systems, tech centers, home offices, and information hubs, as well as problem solvers to reduce carbon emissions, fuel costs, and mobility issues.  

Here are just a few leaders and advancements identified in Newsweek’s results, representing brands that have been pushing harder, pivoting faster, and moving forward in upending business as usual. It is noted that these achievements are even more impressive given they occurred during 2021, a period of extraordinary dislocation in the industry. Last year was and remains about progressing in the face of uncertainty, from shortages in raw materials and technology components to dramatic shifts in consumer buying behaviors.  

  • Designer of the Year: Nissan began a design evolution in mid-2020 to launch 12 refreshed, redesigned models in under two years as part of a longer turnaround plan. Models known for sameness focused on comfort rather than attitude got new identities, from a more brutish truck family to a makeover of a newly sleek Z, their hallmark sports car, and the introduction of the Nissan Ariya, their first all-electric SUV. Each was touched by a design team led by Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice president for Global Design. Albaisa is the 2022 winner of Newsweek’s Auto Disruptors Designer of the Year award. “As the head of design for both Nissan and Infiniti, Albaisa has worked hard to bring unique and appealing design identities to each brand,” Ed Kim, president and chief analyst at AutoPacific tells Newsweek. “His role in the rapid overhaul of Nissan’s product lineup has been crucially important. Not only do the latest Nissan products have a lot more attitude and personality, but they bring design passion to a brand that had lost some of its mojo last decade.” 
  • Executive of the Year: Ford president and CEO Jim Farley is Newsweek’s Auto Disruptors Executive of the Year. The company, says Newsweek, is a leader in the ‘Autos as Information Hubs’ space, in which disruptors collect information from connected fleet and commercial vehicles and use it to create a product linking vehicles to infrastructure and each other. The Ford Pro Intelligence software hub can be used with Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and other brands to help commercial customers manage vehicles and drivers. “Farley has created a sense of purpose and urgency within Ford to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles,” Stephanie Brinley, principal analyst at S&P Global Mobility tells Newsweek. “His approach not only includes pushing the company to test how things are done; he also harnesses the past to focus Ford’s forward motion.” 

Speed and style are accelerating design and redesign  

Brands are expediting the traditionally slower rhythm of design and redesign from years past by taking advantage of technology. Digital transformation is delivering autonomous driving (self-driving technology), connected vehicles that integrate software and hardware for better vehicular communications systems and customer experiences, and many other advancements.  

For example, efficiencies are derived from 3D printing and simulated testing in place of on-site crash tests and photographic analysis. More crash prevention software comes standard on vehicles today than ever before and at lower price points. Large screens that are compatible with today’s smartphone technology are escalating, too. Such design developments and speed to market were not possible even 10 years ago.  

  • Jeep was recognized by Newsweek for adding the option of an entertainment screen in front of the first-row passenger in its upmarket models.  
  • Mercedes-Benz was recognized for introducing the Hyperscreen, a wide display of illuminated instrumentation and infotainment that stretches across the dashboard of the EQS, its all-electric luxury sedan.  
  • Cadillac was noted for launching a 38-inch OLED display that goes nearly pitch black upon request.  
  • Lucid Motors, an EV manufacturer in California, equips vehicles with a Glass Cockpit display – a 34-inch, 5K floating screen that sweeps around the driver, curving like the cockpit of a jet and putting essential information into the driver’s line of sight. 

Disruptors fueling the EV evolution  

Electrified and electric vehicles (EV) are gaining momentum with advancements centered on the ability to locate fuel filling stations and charging points via in-car navigation. This is viewed as essential to ease range anxiety among drivers, which deters people from buying EVs.  

  • Newsweek found that automakers are no longer retrofitting architecture to make it work with battery power and are instead building platforms explicitly for electric models that include flat floors and reconfigurable passenger space, as seen in the Hyundai Ioniq 5. 
  • Porsche was first to come to market with 800-volt charging technology, which shortens the time needed for a full charge by half. The Porsche Taycan gets a full charge in about 20 minutes. 
  • Visionary of the Year: Hyundai Motor Group, parent of Hyundai, Genesis, and Kia, employs the technology on cars that are one-third the cost of the Taycan, putting EVs within reach of more drivers. This disruptive force is also accelerating the shift to alternative fuels – all part of the reason Hyundai Executive Chairman Euisun Chung is Newsweek’s Auto Disruptors Visionary of the Year. “Deploying 800-volt technology more quickly than competitors positions Hyundai Motor Group as a leader in EV technology and is demonstrative of Hyundai’s overall approach to deliver more than consumers expect at the price points each of the company brands play in,” S&P’s Brinley says. “The move also shows Hyundai’s approach to deploy technology widely across brands in an effort to scale more quickly.” 
  • Evolving battery technology has led to partnerships and large investments. General Motors is investing billions in a battery-cell manufacturing joint venture with LG and is currently constructing battery plants in Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee. 
  • Ford has broken ground at a combination battery plant and research and development center in Kentucky that merges the future of electrified powertrains with the promise of a future circular product lifecycle. Hyundai is going further, working to vertically integrate the entire vehicle manufacturing process through partnerships and investments. 

Expansion into mobility  

One of the boldest moves in the mobility space, says Newsweek, is once again from Hyundai, with its $880 million purchase last year of a controlling interest in Boston Dynamics, a leading robotics firm. “Hyundai Motor Group has become one of the most innovative automakers today as it aggressively embraces the future and looks outside of the traditional automotive box,” AutoPacific analyst Kim says, adding, “In a local business environment where large companies like Hyundai are often associated with formality and tradition, [Executive Chairman] Chung’s youth and vision have seen the automaker do away with a lot of both. He has led the company from being an accomplished fast follower to a true innovator. Flying taxis, autonomous shuttles, and robots are out of the traditional automotive realm, but under Chung’s leadership, they’re part of the company’s larger vision for leadership in mobility.” 

Manufacturers are barreling toward technology evolution 

A recent Managing Automotive Technology Trends survey sponsored by Jabil assesses the plans of 126 industry executives, managers, and experts on organizational challenges and plans for fully connected autonomous and electric vehicles. While challenges are many, the survey shows that “companies across the automotive industry are not letting these challenges stop them. Instead, they are using them as opportunities for growth.” Here are the respondents’ priorities for growth, which are driving change in nearly all aspects of the automotive business:  

  • 51 percent are focusing on technology to make low-cost, efficient transportation possible 
  • 48 percent are aiming to be market leaders in fully electric vehicles 
  • 37 percent are investing in high-end luxury vehicle performance 
  • 36 percent want to be one of the first to mass-produce autonomous vehicles 
  • 28 percent are exploring shared mobility models for taxi-type services, like Uber and Lyft 

Climate change and the auto industry 

Here are some staggering statistics to think about: 

  • In 2019, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States came from the transportation sector. Of these, 58% of emissions came from light-duty (passenger) vehicles. 
  • While the world’s energy emissions fell by 7% in 2020, emissions from SUVs increased by 0.5% and oil consumption from SUVs soared to 5.5 million barrels per day. 
  • From 2014 to 2019, Kia models achieved the largest reduction in their CO2 emission rates at 31 gallons per mile, followed by Honda and Hyundai. 
  • Electric vehicles release 54% fewer CO2 emissions into the atmosphere than even the newest gas-powered vehicles. There are 1.2 million electric vehicles in use in the United States today, with 18.7 million expected by 2030. 

In its Global Automotive Market Share in 2021 report, Statista discusses growing environmental awareness and increasing efforts to connect vehicles with trends like the shift to lighter materials and electric and autonomous vehicles that are set to revolutionize the industry. They cited Palo Alto-based Tesla Motors is at the vanguard of the trend towards electrification.   

Automotive World Magazine in February 2022 covered President Joe Biden’s proposed or enacted major policy changes during his first year in office with significant implications for the automotive industry. Many policy changes, including expanded support for EVs, were driven by the Administration’s focus on addressing climate change. The year ahead promises further efforts to enact a climate, energy, and transportation agenda with continued implications for automakers, components firms, and U.S. car buyers alike. 

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), a trusted source both inside and outside of Washington, D.C., more efficient vehicles that run on lower carbon-emitting fuels are critical to meeting energy security and climate protection goals, and accelerating a transition from petroleum-based fuels to other liquid and non-liquid fuels derived from renewable sources. 

Automakers worldwide are working toward eliminating emissions in vehicle fleets, production plants, and supplier networks. Here are two companies helping to lead the charge:

  • The first manufacturer to produce over one million electric cars, Tesla built its reputation around environmental sustainability. Many of its facilities are powered by 50% or more renewable energy, with the Nevada Gigafactory achieving 100%. Tesla’s Supercharger network has delivered over 595-gigawatt hours of energy, the equivalent of about 75 million gallons of gas. The company sources many raw materials through an environmentally responsible and humane supply chain by collecting data from its suppliers through the Responsible Minerals Initiatives Cobalt Reporting Template. 
  • In April 2022, Mercedes-Benz said it will more than halve its carbon footprint per passenger car by the next decade compared with 2020 levels. CEO Ola Källenius described climate change as “…our generation’s most important task. If you want to do business with us in the future, you need to have a sustainable business strategy,” he said. The company’s chief technology officer Markus Schäfer said suppliers representing 90 percent of their purchasing volume will supply CO2-neutral parts. “We have integrated sustainability requirements into all our purchasing activities and awarding processes,” he said. And their production and supply chain boss Jörg Burzer said they will make vehicle production CO2 neutral this year and CO2-free in Europe. Mercedes is electrifying its fleet, expecting EVs to account for half of global sales by 2025, with plans to go all-electric by 2030 where market conditions allow. 

Employment issues and opportunities 

Ford CEO Farley says Ford needs radically different human talent than it now has, which, based on the digital trajectory of this industry and most others, surely holds true for just about every major manufacturer. The automobile industry employs millions of people, with jobs focused on diverse and growing disciplines, from management to operations, engineering, technology, manufacturing, sales, design, R&D, and many more by the day. 

  • There are 68,703 people employed in the car and automobile manufacturing industry in the United States as of 2022, up 2.3% this year.  
  • Motor vehicle and parts dealers in the United States had just under two million employees on their payrolls in June 2021.  
  • The number of motor vehicles and parts manufacturing employees was roughly 873,000 people in June 2021, up from around 850,000 the same month a year earlier. This upward trend in employment will likely continue. 

There are vast opportunities on the inside and lining the periphery of the industry, including in the legal, compliance, antitrust, and mergers and acquisitions fields, as well as in accounting and finance, transportation and logistics, multinational operations, government, and regulatory agency operations and management, data analytics, cybersecurity, and so many more. 

Dramatic changes have manufacturers and professionals alike leaping into vertical and supporting markets to keep the industry’s wheels turning toward advancement. This year, we will start seeing more partnerships between manufacturers and tech companies, as well as other component and parts providers. Given electric, connected, and autonomous vehicles require specialized software and advanced technology to function safely and correctly, manufacturers must either make substantial investments in IT or partner with companies that design and produce new operating systems for the next generation of advanced automobiles. 

Goodwin Recruiting sees a bright future in manufacturing and is well equipped to support a variety of roles in the automotive industry and its vertical markets. Whether for Engineering, Manufacturing, Sales, Operations, Finance, HR, or Executive roles, Goodwin Recruiting can provide you with high-caliber talent across the growing spectrum of roles and hiring requirements. Reach out today.