We've kicked off January with a list of what to watch out for in 2019 with our comprehensive guide to exactly what new cars are due to hit showrooms over the next twelve months.
But what about the things we don't know? The following might not be set in stone, but Autocar's writers have predicted what you can expect from the automotive industry in 2019.
James Dyson will spark a revolution
Inventor James Dyson is promising a revolutionary electric car on sale in 2021, which makes 2019 a critical year as he readies a new British test track and Singapore manufacturing plant for operations.
The Singapore factory is due to be finished in 2020 and a first sight of at least a sketch of the Dyson EV must be a strong possibility this year, most likely in the last quarter.
As a new market entrant, Dyson can reveal details of his new car without the risk of adversely affecting sales of an existing model, although the company will be acutely aware of revealing too much to rivals.
Dyson has a history of defending its designs and R&D spending in the courts and six years ago accused Bosch – whose automotive division is one of the world’s biggest car parts suppliers – of stealing secrets of patented high-speed brushless motors.
Since then, Dyson has been locked in a legal battle at the European Court over energy labelling of vacuum cleaners, again putting him at loggerheads with Bosch’s home products division.
However, the need to prepare car buyers for the surprise of a Dyson-designed electric car may well override concerns over intellectual property and encourage the British inventor to reveal outline details of the new car 12 or 18 months ahead of its launch. Julian Rendell
Brexit? Who knows… but it won’t be simple
Regardless of your political view, we can all agree that Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union hasn’t exactly been smooth or predictable. And events unfolding in Westminster and Brussels mean that, at the time of writing, nobody really knows what will happen.
Which, for multinational car firms with tight production chains that cross the UK/EU border repeatedly, is a massive dose of wholly unwelcome uncertainty in an already turbulent market. And multinational car firms hate uncertainty.
So here’s how things stand. At 11pm on 29 March, Britain will absolutely, definitely leave the EU. Probably.
When/if Britain leaves, relations between the two will be governed by a withdrawal agreement – if the UK parliament approves it in a vote, which may or may not take place mid-January. Should that not happen, a new deal may be agreed, or Britain will leave without one. Or delay Brexit. Or stage a second referendum.
Crystal clear so far, right?
If Britain leaves with a withdrawal agreement, things should continue pretty much as they are until 31 December 2020, by which point a full trade deal will or won’t have been agreed. If Britain leaves without a deal, cross-border relations might be covered by World Trade Organization rules or some other yet-to-be-determined system (rock paper scissors, anyone?). And that may or may not cause huge disruption to manufacturing industries – including the car industry – with short-timeline production chains that rely on tariff- and delay-free movement across the border.
It’s not just industry that could be affected: you might need an International Driving Permit to drive in the EU, have to sort different car insurance, or likely need a visa waiver to enter European countries.
Simple, right? Well, no. Frankly, trying to predict Brexit is an impossible task – which is exactly the problem for those people and firms whose livelihoods could depend on how and when it happens. What we can predict is that, whatever form Brexit takes, it will have a major impact on the British car industry.
Probably. James Attwood
UK plants will be under threat
Closely linked to Brexit – will 2019 be the year that a major car plant shuts in the UK? There are several possible candidates, but history suggests any closure plan will develop over a couple of years and is likely to be leaked well in advance – given the cataclysmic effect on jobs, the supply chain and Westminster politics. So we wouldn’t expect the doors to be shuttered on any major plant in 2019, but as the detail of the UK’s future trade agreement is negotiated from April (probably…), any increase in the PR volume around a plant closure is noise we really don’t want to hear this year. Julian Rendell
The US/China trade war will influence car production
The on/off trade war between the US and China and the US and the EU is already influencing global car production. For example, Geely-owned Volvo has announced lower volumes of exports to China of the S60 from a new US plant in Charleston as a response to sales dragged down by higher import duties. As a result, a question hangs over US investment for the XC90, with sales in China under threat.
Meanwhile, BMW is increasing production in China of the X3, a model that previously was globally sourced from South Carolina. Others – like Ford, which exports the Mustang to China – are remaining cagey about their response to the tariff war. In the US, this has seen duty increase to 25% to match China, while the Asian country has responded by hiking its duty to 40%.
This tit-for-tat might actually help European car makers because China, to spite the US, reduced tariffs on cars made everywhere outside the US to 15%. We can expect more upping-and-downing of tariffs during 2019 as the two superpowers manoeuvre around each other with the Trump administration even thinking about detonating its own 40% tariff on Chinese imports. Julian Rendell
New diesels will come back
Expect the harsh attitude from new car buyers towards diesel to soften once the penny drops that, under the new WLTP emissions regulations, the latest diesels produce cleaner real-world exhaust emissions than older petrol cars. Popular medium and large SUVs rely on frugal diesel engines to remain viable from the point of view of fuel costs and also CO2 emissions. Diesels generally will always be more economical than petrol cars or petrol hybrids for motorway users. Buyers who have switched away from diesel may find the real-world economy too compelling to not want to return to it. Jesse Crosse
Lewis Hamilton will win a sixth F1 title - and Max Verstappen will be his closest challenger
As Formula 1 predictions go, picking Lewis Hamilton to win a sixth title feels a bit too easy. Given Mercedes has been an oasis of calm in an off-season of change and Hamilton remains the benchmark for speed, it’s hardly a bold shout. So we’ll stick our neck out and tip Red Bull’s Max Verstappen as his closest rival.
And what of Sebastian Vettel? Well, Ferrari should be in the mix, but there are increasing signs of tension between driver and team, and new arrival Charles Leclerc should pose more of a challenge than Kimi Raikkonen.
Another tip: with only the British Grand Prix live on terrestrial TV this year, expect viewing figures to drop substantially. James Attwood
Kris Meeke will fight for the WRC title
Kris Meeke’s World Rally Championship career seemingly came to an abrupt end when he was fired during 2018 after one crash too many. Instead, the Northern Irishman has landed a works Toyota drive. The Yaris WRC was arguably the fastest car of 2018, making the ultra-quick Meeke a genuine title threat. James Attwood
Volkswagen will break another EV record
Until a suitable electric motorsport championship arrives, VW is creating its own challenges. Last year, it was Pikes Peak (outright record: done); this year, the Nürburgring. Officially, a modified 671bhp ID R prototype will bid for the electric record – but VW thinks Porsche’s overall record can be beaten… James Attwood
Fernando Alonso will win the Indy 500
The two-time F1 world champion proved he was more than capable of winning the Indy 500 by leading for a large chunk of the race on his first attempt in 2017. Engine failure robbed him that time around, but in 2019 he’ll have better luck (even if the entry is run directly by McLaren this time) and secure that Triple Crown. Dan Prosser
The new Land Rover Defender’s design will make Brexit debate seem mild…
Actually, a very large part of me thinks that there won’t be a debate and that automotive enthusiasts have already closed their minds to accepting the new Defender.
But here’s hoping that Autocar readers are a bit broader-minded than this – and that we can all wait until the covers come off before leaping to conclusions. After all, the best pictures we’ve seen of the Defender so far are resplendent in camouflage to make the SAS proud.
The case for the defence has merit. First, if the Defender is to exist at all, Land Rover must turn it from a 20,000-units-a-year seller to a 50,000-a-year one. It would be business suicide to plough the same furrow carved by the old Defender.
Second, they won’t be launching a new Defender per se, but rather a new family of Defenders. Does that mean there will be one designed for showing off in Chelsea rather than traversing a swollen Zambezi? Probably. But don’t moan: just take your pick.
Finally, Land Rover’s design team arrive at this point with a string of king-hits to their name, the rear end of the latest Discovery aside (arguably). Like it or not (and isn’t it so very British to be snooty about it), they have knocked out success after success. Could it be that they could top their greatest triumph of recent times – the Evoque, surely – and unveil a Defender that makes us all fall in love with it?
(… and it might break our website)
The most highly anticipated car of the century? Probably. If there’s one car that will make our website break, from sheer number of readers, it’s the Defender. Lucky we’ve got a powerful website, then… Jim Holder
Car makers will co-operate more
It wasn’t so long ago that marques that were owned by the same company couldn’t fathom ways to work together (we’re talking about you, Saab), overlooking the potential to save tens of millions in development costs by sharing know-how internally.
Now, though, it’s all the rage for marques that aren’t even owned by the same company to work together, be it PSA and BMW, BMW and Toyota, Renault, Nissan and Mercedes, Mazda and Fiat, Audi and Hyundai, or Ford and Volkswagen.
Expect to see this trend intensify as car makers face up to the challenges (and costs) of developing hybrid, electric and hydrogen powertrains at the same time as investing in connectivity, autonomy and more. Jim Holder
Jaguar Land Rover will make a comeback
Things aren’t brilliant at JLR right now. Which comes as quite a shock. We’re all so used to repeated tales of stellar sales success, especially at Land Rover, that recent news of JLR reverses (sending parent Tata Group’s shares much closer to ‘junk’ status than is comfortable) makes scary, out-of-character reading. But I predict a JLR comeback later in 2019. President Trump seems closer to healing his rift over tariffs with the Chinese that has cost JLR “thousands” of car sales there. The current web of uncertainty over Brexit must surely reach a firmer basis by March – even if there will undoubtedly be lingering problems to solve – and (as Autocar readers will be well aware) both Jaguar and Land Rover are known to have a series of enticing, rule-changing cars to launch this year and next.
Meanwhile, JLR’s full-steam expansion of its Gaydon HQ, which is creating a home for no fewer than 12,000 engineers, continues to speak loudly of long-term company confidence. Most importantly, the people behind the recent explosive expansion of JLR’s business are still on the job (their ranks augmented by others of similar skill), so it’s difficult to see why they won’t build an impressive recovery – and soon. Steve Cropley
We’ll learn more about Ineos and Ford’s Bridgend plant
This year should see the emergence of more detail about ‘Projekt Grenadier’, the rugged 4x4 that British chemical company Ineos plans to sell in 2021 as a spiritual successor to the discontinued Land Rover Defender.
First should be details of the production site for the 25,000 Grenadiers Ineos plans to build each year, with Ford’s Bridgend plant in the running along with at least one other, unnamed location. Bridgend will have excess capacity in 2020 when a contract to build Jaguar Land Rover’s V8 petrol engines comes to an end. Julian Rendell
2019 will be an electric year
In 2018 we got excited about the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi E-tron and Mercedes EQ C, but this will be the year when viable all-electric alternatives to petrol and diesel really begin to take off. Where Tesla led the way in range – at a price – others now follow with more affordable long-range EVs. The 64kWh versions of Hyundai’s Kona Electric and the forthcoming Kia e-Niro are examples of how fast range and price are converging, and both are capable of longrange road trips.
We’ll also see exciting new cars such as the Volkswagen ID hatchback, which VW claims will cost the same as a Golf diesel; the Honda Urban EV, a handsome retro supermini; and the Porsche Taycan. Announcements from other manufacturers are likely before 2019 is out if they are not to risk being left behind. The year of the EV is upon us. Jesse Crosse/Rachel Burgess
Hyundai-Kia will keep on astounding
Remember the first time you pondered just how far Hyundai and Kia had come in such a short space of time, probably about 10 years ago? Chances are you have pondered the same point just about every single year since. The co-owned firms’ rate of growth is as relentless as it is remarkable.
Today, you’ll note a line-up of mainstream models that equal the most established of their opposition in every sector of the market. You’ll appreciate that they have launched a hot hatch in the i30 N that is, at the first attempt, a rival to the best on sale. Then you’ll consider that the Kona Electric (and soon Kia e-Niro) has completely rewritten the electric car cost versus range equation. And, finally, you’ll nod approvingly that the second-generation Nexo hydrogen fuel cell car that’s already on sale before most car makers have even launched such a product. Jim Holder
PHEV sales will fall
Plug-in hybrid sales have been growing for some time now, offering a perfect first step towards zero emissions. But, in September last year, the Government announced it was axing the plug-in grant for PHEVs, instead focusing on incentives for pure electric models. Now there’s every chance the UK will follow in the footsteps of the Netherlands. It was the leading market for PHEVs in 2015, thanks to generous tax incentives for company car drivers, and then as the grants waned, the market collapsed. Now, the Netherlands isn’t even in the top 10 European markets for PHEVs. Rachel Burgess
Nobody will receive a TVR
I’ll be amazed if a TVR customer takes delivery in 2019. As it stands, TVR still has to source 25% of the parts for its new Griffith and the factory is apparently seven months delayed owing to unforeseen paperwork difficulties. This wouldn’t be a problem if nobody had been shown the car yet and a load of deposits hadn’t been taken for it. While in some ways it’s great to see a project evolve, ultimately I prefer the Ariel route: ‘Here’s our new car. It’s finished. We start building next week. Want to buy one?’ Matt Prior
EV platforms will get more sophisticated
Electric car mechanical architecture will begin to change. Generally, pure EV platforms follow a familiar theme: batteries at the bottom, between the axles, because they’re big and heavy and not exactly malleable, and that’s where they’re safest and keep a car most agile. It’s why EVs suit being crossovers.
Already this skateboard-style architecture offers packaging advantages over making room for an engine, but EVs will offer more advantages again once power reserves don’t have to be in one big solid block together. There will only be shoots of this to look for in 2019, but skateboard platforms have slashed the cost of entry into the car market, so the establishment will try to find more sophisticated ways to do things to give them a competitive advantage. Matt Prior
We’ll learn more about the UK battery industrialisation centre
Will the Government be able to name a major tier one cell manufacturer (maybe Panasonic, LG Chem or Siemens) for the plant in Coventry that recently won planning permission? Construction is expected to start in mid-2019 and finish in 2020, while behind-the-scenes efforts to market the UK as a global hub for cell manufacture gather pace. Julian Rendell
The age of the coach builder will return
The so-called skateboard electric car platform has quickly become the layout of choice for premium EVs. The battery cells and motors are all commodities, which means a global automotive supplier will soon start offering its own such platform to car makers. Not only does that save manufacturers the cost of developing one themselves, it also means smaller firms will be able to buy in a rolling chassis and add their own bodywork and cabins. The age of the automotive coachbuilder will be back upon us. Dan Prosser
Vauxhall will continue to bounce back
Vauxhall-Opel returned to profit for the first time in 19 years in 2018, having been under PSA ownership for little more than 12 months. It’s not without bad news – we’ve already seen two waves of job losses at Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant – but PSA boss Carlos Tavares believes such cost-cutting will ultimately be a force for good. First signs are positive – next, the 2019 Corsa needs to prove its worth. Rachel Burgess
Tesla will be bought
To Tesla’s army of fervent followers, the company has already rewritten the rules of the car industry and will always remain ahead of the field. To others, it’s a punky upstart that’s about to be overcome by the weight of experience that those same established car makers have built up over 100 years. Perhaps a scenario that sits between the two will be where the dice finally settles. As the EV market hots up, it’s perfectly conceivable that some Tesla investors will wish to cash in, and old-school car makers may eagerly step up to buy some of that stardust. A Volkswagen ID Tesla edition? You read it here first… Jim Holder
We’ll see less of Elon Musk
Another Tesla take is that 2019 will be the year when the firm settles down and makes headlines for the right reasons – well-built new models, growing sales and a reliable trading profit. The key date is May/June, when Robyn Denholm, a new independent chairperson, takes up her role, replacing Tesla founder Elon Musk. Denholm was a Tesla non-executive director and head of strategy at Australian mobile phone operator Telstra.
At the urging of the US stock market regulator, the SEC, she was appointed as Tesla chairperson in November 2018, after Musk’s erratic communications last year were ruled as misleading to investors.
Denholm is sitting out a six-month notice period until mid-2019, and arrives with a brief to bring greater corporate responsibility to Tesla’s relations with the US stock market.
But damping down Musk’s increasingly irrational management style can also only benefit Tesla’s business and the cars it builds, especially with the right-hand-drive Model 3 due on sale in the UK in late 2019 and the Model Y compact crossover due for global reveal in mid-2019. Julian Rendell
There will be more emissions scandals
I don’t think we’ve seen the last revelation of emission-test rigging. I reckon there are too many companies, with too many people, under too many pressures, for more corners not to have been cut. Matt Prior