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I like driving in my car

JLR (Jaguar Landrover) has been a rare British car manufacturing success. Their luxury cars have sold well in the US and then in China. However, both these markets are contracting (partly due to trade sanctions) and 80% of JLR’s output is diesel when the world is crying out for hybrid or electric and the company has just announced it is to make 5,000 redundancies in the UK.

The automotive industry is in a state of flux; people are putting off buying new cars as they wait to see what developments are coming down the pipeline.

It used to be that getting around was a choice between walking, taking public transport or buying a car. But changes are coming, courtesy of carmakers and tech giants, as three trends intertwine. Electric vehicles (EVS) will supersede those powered by fossil fuels. Mobility services such as car-sharing and ride-hailing are blurring the lines between private and public transport, displacing buses and trains as well as car ownership. And autonomous vehicles promise to make driving skills redundant.

Big advances in all three of these areas are on the road map for 2019. EVS, with their smooth and silent acceleration, will move further into the mainstream. Tesla, which has led the top end of the market, will face more competition. The new Jaguar I-Pace and the first of the Audi e-tron range will be joined by the Mercedes-Benz EQ family, the Porsche Taycan and the Volvo XG40 EV.

A host of Chinese “Teslas”, along with models from BMW and from Volvo’s Polestar sub-brand that are due in 2020, will pack the premium market with options. Motorists looking for cheaper electric motoring will also have greater choice. EVS from VW, Ford, Skoda, Mini and many others will go on sale in the next year or so and will start to compete on total ownership costs with cars powered by internal-combustion engines.

The longer distances these vehicles can travel without topping up, and the gathering pace of the roll-out of charging infrastructure, will help allay the fear (aside from cost) that prevents people from switching: range anxiety. Electrify America, a subsidiary of VW, plans to install 2,000 charging points across America by June 2019, including fast chargers that can replenish a battery in a matter of minutes at 100 Walmart stores.

European carmakers also have plans to marry ev technology with mobility services that carmakers hope will generate profits as younger customers opt for short-term hiring or ride-hailing as an alternative to the expense of car ownership. Using EVS makes sense. As well as the total cost of buying and running an ev soon matching that of cars with internal-combustion engines, with far fewer moving parts, these cars will be easier to maintain and also satisfy the demands of an increasing roster of cities for zero-emission vehicles.

VW, Renault and PSA all have EV car-sharing schemes that will be launched, or are due to expand, during 2019. VW will start in Germany before going international in 2020. The two French firms will serve Paris before spreading farther afield.

The boldest leap will be the coming marriage of mob­ility and electricity with autonomy. Though several firms (led by Waymo, Google’s autonomous-car unit) are testing self-driving robotaxis, these are based on combustion-engine vehicles. General Motors hopes to overtake them by launching large-scale electric robo­taxi services in several American cities in 2019, probably starting in San Francisco—right on the doorstep of the techies who are seeking to disrupt the car industry.

The choice of ways to move around big cities will grow as robotaxis and other sharing services become part of urban transport systems, and electric scooters and bicycles are added to the mix in more places. But the question for the firms involved is how to make money. Carmakers face a tricky transition from selling cars to selling services as well. Tech firms need the incumbents to provide vehicles, if they are to realise their ambitions in mobility. Expect more tie-ups between the two camps in 2019 as they try to find roadworthy business models.

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