Formula E race

From Silicon Valley: forces shaping auto’s future

An electrifying car race in NYC symbolizes changes in the auto business; Formula E moves to Montreal where changes will be on display

Car lovers can’t help but follow Formula E, aka the “electric street racing series.” It has celebrity—Leo DiCaprio and British billionaire Richard Branson shared its headlines when the race used the streets of NYC as a track. It also has substance. The event has generated interest in sustainability and conversation around electric-powered vehicles, just one of several forces shaping the future of the auto industry. At Panasonic Automotive’s Silicon Valley base in Cupertino, CA, we often hear questions about vehicle trends. Here’s our take on a few of the most interesting—from industry changes spurred by electrification to extreme customization, and to a new vision for what people will be doing in future vehicles.

1. An electrifying race to electric vehicles

In a summer dominated by electric vehicle news, Formula E grabbed headlines with vehicles that are climate friendly and quiet. “With it being an electric vehicle, there’s no delay from when you put the throttle down to when it gets to the wheels,” Mitch Evans of New Zealand, who drives for Panasonic Jaguar Racing, told the AP. Drivers now head to Montreal for the next race on July 29.

Formula E cars aren’t designed for the average consumer, but there are plenty of electric and hybrid vehicles on the market, and that’s expected to grow. According to research firm Wood Mackenzie, the number of electric vehicles will reach almost 100 million by 2035. As drive trains move to electric, which many experts believe are less complicated and expensive to make than gas powered engines, barriers to entry fall so it becomes possible for smaller companies to enter the business of manufacturing vehicles and for large brands to offer more customized models. Indeed, the move to electric has spurred big changes in the automotive industry’s supply chain.

2. Enabling extreme customization

Some of the best car ads point to what buyers want: design, reliability, safety, advanced infotainment, sustainability and other special features. Platform, not so much. The world’s largest automakers—with portfolios spanning mass volume vehicles to high-end luxury models–are grappling with ways to re-purpose platforms across brands and models to deliver features to suit the brand and the buyer. The same principle applies to startup car-makers: they’re looking for a common platform and customizing it for a special user experience.

Displays are an area where you see rich customization and innovation including a next-gen augmented reality head-up display, demonstrated earlier this year at CES. At the show, Panasonic and Qualcomm announced a next-gen in-vehicle infotainment concept system powered by Android. We’re also working with IBM on a cognitive vehicle infotainment system using Watson. Panasonic’s work in customization and connected car solution development recently paid off in a major telematics deal.

3. Creating a new experience inside autos

Extreme customization, new electronics technology and autonomous driving are shaping how designers think about what people will be doing in future vehicles. Haptic sensors, augmented reality displays, concert-style acoustics and eCockpit environments are generating buzz. Although debate swirls around the date for full autonomous driving, already people are using autonomous features in vehicles. We are confident that as tech progresses, and people grow accustomed to driverless features, expectations will shift. The personal spaces concept envisions that as you move from place to place, from car to home to living room, airport, stadium seat, you will have a personal connection to the space you’re in, but also an information connection to the space. And future autos will acknowledge that personal and information connection.


Hakan Kostepen, Executive Director - Product Strategy & Innovation, Panasonic Automotive Systems Company of America’s – Silicon Valley base