The latest auto sales numbers are out and things look promising with U.S. auto sales rising nine percent in December, the best number since before the recession. Cheap financing, improved income, and a slew of new product offerings from major automakers should help continue the momentum through 2013.
Last year saw Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota bounce back after being hit hard with inventory woes following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Honda posted a 2012 sales growth of 24 percent and Toyota 27 percent. Toyota and Honda are winning out in the luxury car category too, and in the green-car space Toyota Prius sales were up 73 percent in 2012.
So what auto trends can we except to see in 2013? Here are my predictions:
1. Mobile device integration. Automakers will scramble to distinguish themselves in the smart-car category. From infotainment to safety features to diagnostics, our mobile devices and our vehicle’s on-board electronics will become ever more connected. We’ll see more interchange between automotive and high-tech companies like Microsoft and Google, and continued interest in open-source tech platforms like Tizen and Linux.
2. Technology that keeps us safe. We’re relying on technology more and more in order to survive in the world around us. And now that GPS and OnStar are standard fodder, automakers are upping their game. Self-driving technology, parking guidance, lane departure warnings, and blind spot alerts are just a few of the high-tech safety features you can except to see more of in 2013.
3. Return of the mid-life-crisis. It’s no coincidence that there seem to be more luxury cars and sports cars on the roads. High-end luxury car brands like Lamborghini, Bentley and Maserati did well in 2012 and there were some great sporty offerings from Toyota and Peugeot too. Why? Baby boomers are reaching retirement age and investing in a new set of fancy wheels, and Generation Xers are finally coming into some serious money and indulging in that bodatious sports car that once adorned their bedroom wall.
4. Increased after-market demand. A growing set of software option for vehicles will provide an opportunity to sell all kinds of high-tech car accessories to the consumer, boosting an already thriving 257 billion dollar auto aftermarket. With owners keeping their cars longer, the service market will continue to grow and OEMs will reap the benefits of aggressive service programs, prepaid service plans, and more engagement with customers.
Related to this, auto manufacturers will look at new ways to incorporate advanced diagnostic technology tools into vehicles so that they can track and communicate service requirements to customers.
5. Hybrids go mainstream. Despite stable gas prices and a renewed confidence in U.S. oil production, consumers seem more willing to give hybrid technology a try. Although the verdict’s still out on electric cars, many consumers will opt for compact cars, subcompact cars and hybrids in 2013. Hybrid cars will come down in price as the technology becomes widely available and auto manufacturers work to meet the government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.