Making the future of mobility
Chemicals and specialty materials in electric, autonomous, and shared vehicles
Today, a new series of converging trends could profoundly impact how – and of what – vehicles are made. Electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, and shared mobility will help define the future of mobility, potentially creating winners and losers in the Chemicals and Specialty Materials sector. This article explores challenges and opportunities that the new mobility ecosystem could create for these companies.
Many may need to create value in the face of shifts in material requirements and demand, but they appear to have an opportunity to actively shape this demand and co-create the new mobility landscape. Those that simply react are likely to themselves with a shrinking – and commoditized – share of the transportation materials market.
Shared mobility: New materials demands, new business models.
As this space shifts from being largely utilitarian to enabling an in-transit experience such as business and entertainment, opportunities could emerge for OLED display materials, anti-bacterial coatings, and many more functional materials. Vehicles in shared fleets could be increasingly modular, with future designs focused on more easily (or more cheaply) replacing interior components that fail from increased wear and tear before the rest of the vehicle. As large fleet operators begin to represent a greater share of the mobility market, chemicals and materials companies may find that their ultimate customer is no longer an end consumer or even an OEM.
Autonomous vehicles: Rethinking a century-old design.
To date, the form and composition of those materials have been driven primarily by safety concerns, with a secondary emphasis on providing passengers (especially drivers) a comfortable and user-friendly ride. One can imagine the implications of a shift away from a driver-driven vehicle. The interior can be completely reconfigured for entertainment and utility – creating new demands for the materials needed to enable that experience, such as high-definition touchscreens capable of augmented reality.
Electric vehicles: Dramatic changes under the hood.
From a materials perspective, the most dramatic impact of the future of mobility could lie not in the emergence of shared autonomous vehicles, but in the accelerating shift toward electric powertrains. A vehicle powered by a battery and electric motor has far fewer moving parts, a dramatically simplified bill of materials, and tends to require far less maintenance. There is a silver lining for chemicals and materials companies, however. Electric vehicles require the increased use of specific materials at levels ICE vehicles would never require. Every 1 percent increase in EV market penetration is estimated to increase lithium demand, for example, by 70 kilotons per year – even as supply constraints could drive up prices and prompt sourcing from new markets.
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