Innovations play a decisive role in determining the future viability of the automotive industry – this is more true than ever in the current climate. For ten years now, the Center of Automotive Management (CAM) and the auditing and consulting firm PwC Germany have been analysing the innovative strength of the global automotive industry. In the current evaluation, the Volkswagen Group (with Audi, Porsche, SEAT and Skoda) is able to defend its title as the most innovative automotive group and receives the AutomotiveInnovations Award 2021 in four categories. With an index value of 149, the volume manufacturer from Wolfsburg is at the top, as it was last year, ahead of Daimler (133) and – at some distance – Tesla (93) and BMW (88). SAIC (index value 80) is the first Chinese manufacturer to make it into the top 5 of the most innovative automotive groups. Volkswagen not only had the most innovations in 2020 – 67 in total – but also recorded the most global innovations (24). In the most important future fields, it was among the technological innovation leaders last year, say the experts from PwC and CAM.
Among other things, Volkswagen AG can score points in the field of electric drive with the VW Golf e-Hybrid, which has the highest electric range of the plug-in hybrids in the lower mid-range segment. In the technology field of autonomous driving, the VW Group impresses with an innovative lane and orientation light in the Audi e-tron Sportback. In the field of “Interface & Interior”, VW has developed a particularly forward-looking solution with the Augmented Reality Head-Up Display for the VW ID.3.
“Product innovations have always been an important driver for the performance of car manufacturers and suppliers. However, in view of the ongoing transformation of the industry, they are becoming vital for survival. Only those who actively drive change now and boldly explore new solutions can secure their own future viability in a global comparison,” comments Felix Kuhnert, Global Automotive Leader at PwC. According to the analyst, this requires not only new products and services, but also software, processes, structures and partnerships.
The basis for the AutomotiveInnovations Awards is the annual study based on the innovation database of the Center of Automotive Management (CAM). Since 2005, the CAM, under the direction of proessor Stefan Bratzel, has been surveying the product innovations of global automotive groups and evaluating them according to quantitative and qualitative criteria. For the year 2020, the CAM analysed the innovations of 30 global automotive manufacturers and start-ups with around 80 automotive brands. A total of 645 individual innovations were evaluated. Among these are 152 world firsts. Criteria such as degree of maturity, originality, customer benefit and degree of innovation were included in the evaluation.
“The future fields of electromobility, connectivity and autonomous driving are shaping the industry’s innovation activity and are decisive for the future success and survival of the players,” says CAM Director Stefan Bratzel. “The German automotive industry scores high in innovation in core technology fields. However, in addition to car manufacturers from California and China, major digital players are also among the new strong players in the battle for the automobility market of the future. In the marathon for the car of the future, many established companies will fall by the wayside in the future.”
Among the volume manufacturers, VW is ahead as the most innovative brand in 2021, followed by Ford and BYD. The group scores particularly well with its ID.3 models and the upgraded VW Passat for the Chinese market. Among other things, the battery innovations that enable high ranges and charging performance, but also the innovations in the area of interface, such as Smart Voice – a learning voice assistant – are worth highlighting.
Among the volume brands, VW also wins the race in the category Autonomous Driving & ADAS and in the area of Interface & Connectivity. Particularly noteworthy are the semi-autonomous Autopilot (Travel Assist) and the active Emergency Brake Assist via car-to-car warning for the end of traffic jams, which is available for the first time in the lower mid-range (in the Golf 8). In the area of connectivity, VW is following Tesla’s lead and increasingly relying on over-the-air updates to improve the systems and enable new functionalities. For example, the VW ID.3 and ID.4 will receive the first updates via mobile communications from July 2021.
Among the premium brands, Daimler has a clear lead with its Mercedes-Benz brand. Tesla and BMW also make it into the top 3 in this segment. Mercedes-Benz’s strengths lie both in the area of autonomous driving & ADAS and in the interface & interior category. In particular, the new generation of the S-Class scores with many world firsts, such as the MBUX system including motion detection, an exit warning system and the intelligent interior assistant for a new type of anticipatory operation.
According to the CAM analysis, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is also by far the most innovative model in 2021, followed by Tesla’s Model Y and then Ford’s Mustang Mach-E. The S-Class impresses with state-of-the-art technology and beats the competition in several technology fields, such as Autonomous Driving & ADAS and Interface & Connectivity.
Tesla and BYD lead the way in electric drives
In the field of electric mobility, the Californian manufacturer Tesla stands out as the most innovative premium brand. According to the CAM’s innovation study, the Tesla models convince with high ranges and charging performance, thus making electric mobility suitable for everyday use. Among the volume brands, the Chinese company BYD is the most innovative brand in the field of electromobility. The new battery technology of the BYD premium sedan Han EV for long ranges and low power consumption played a major role in this.
The study also evaluated around 300 original innovations from tier-one suppliers. The AutomotiveInnovations Awards are presented in five categories for the most outstanding innovations: In the field of conventional powertrains, a cooperation between Bosch and Weichai prevailed, which was able to further optimise the efficiency for diesel combustion engines. The Chinese battery manufacturer CATL was honoured in the “Alternative Drives” segment for its battery technology, which, thanks to its high energy density, enables its use in small vehicles and thus contributes to the spread of e-mobility.
Edscha convinced in the category “Chassis, Body & Exterior” with the Power Door Module, which increases both comfort and safety because it enables the door to be opened without effort and stops automatically when obstacles approach. In the Automated Driving and ADAS category, Continental comes out on top with its retrofittable Turning Assistant for trucks, which significantly improves safety when turning. The Interior and Interface category is led this year by cable manufacturer Leoni. Leoni’s Active Copper Cables enable the transmission of large signal bandwidths with minimal power consumption. With the help of these active, innovative data transmission cables, the manufacturers supplied can save weight and energy.
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