Autocar’s guide to what will happen in 2020


What will happen in 2020

As part of our guide to the perfect motoring year, here are our predictions for what to expect from the automotive world in the next twelve months

We’ve kicked off January with a list of what to watch out for in 2020 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 2020.

Defender will be epic off road and good on it, too

It has got to be really, hasn’t it? Land Rover seems to have avoided any damaging backlash over the design of the car that was always going to be easier to get wrong than get right given the stakes (for what it’s worth, we’re firmly in the ‘they’ve got it right’ camp). But it would be nothing compared with what would come its way if the Defender wasn’t the roughest, toughest off-roader in the world, capable of ploughing forward even when the terrain becomes seemingly impassable.

So while much has been made of its design, less has been made of the tech. Or rather, the tech story has got lost in the debate on the Defender’s looks. Maybe that’s because Land Rover didn’t want to face down another debate on why the Defender has switched from a separate ladder frame chassis to a monocoque body.

That switch was an obvious one when stacking up the Defender’s business case, so the D7x platform underpinning the car is closely related to JLR’s other aluminium architecture. This should make the new Defender unrecognisable from the old one to drive on the road, which is essential in widening its appeal, and Land Rover says its suite of off-road hardware and software is the toughest and most advanced it has yet produced.

So strong is the new Defender, it allegedly broke some of equipment designed to test its durability.

EVs will spark a saloon revival

We’re not saying the SUV trend is over just yet, but we reckon you’ll see more and more saloons on the road as EVs begin to take hold. Lighter, more aerodynamic and perfectly suited to the smoothness of an EV powertrain, the saloon car could be on for a comeback. New Jaguar XJ, Tesla Model 3, BMW i4… The list goes on.

Used EV prices will rise and rise

New car sales suffered last year but the interest in used cars remained fairly buoyant. Narrow that down to the burgeoning electric vehicle sector and it seems that demand skyrocketed, with the prices of used EVs rising rapidly as a result: the ever-popular and usefully affordable Renault Zoe saw prices for some models rise by an average of 18% year on year, with earlier versions of the Nissan Leaf not far behind. We predict pretty much the same this year, as buyers are tempted by the prospect of jumping onto the EV bandwagon for much less than the cost of buying one of the many prohibitively more expensive new models.

EVs will remain a tiny proportion of sales

If you think 2020 will be the year the roads turn silent with electric cars buzzing around everywhere, think again. It’s true there are lots of new electric cars coming, from more brands at more affordable prices, with greater ranges to finally draw some mainstream appeal, but the choice of cars that fit this description still won’t run much into double figures.

For every new Volkswagen ID or Vauxhall Corsa-e, there’s a new VW Golf or a standard Vauxhall Corsa, the likes of which will continue to dominate best-seller charts. Remember, while the electric car is in its infancy, the internal combustion engined car is a rather sophisticated and developed product itself, and it continues to get better all the time.

To the end of last November, EVs had just a 1.5% market share. Getting that above 5% is a realistic, perhaps pessimistic target for this year, given the strength of the newcomers and increased supply of models such as the Kia e-Niro.

It’s best to think of 2020 as the most significant year yet for the transition towards EVs. The real question is whether the infrastructure will develop as quickly to support them.

The VW ID 3 will become Europe’s best-selling EV

We’re being bold here. The Nissan Leaf was the best-selling electric car in Europe last year, with around 39,000 sales, just ahead of the Renault Zoe. It will be quite the challenge for the ID 3 to get close to that, but we reckon it could be outselling its rivals by year’s end.

It’s a question of scale: Volkswagen has big ambitions for the first electric car built on its crucial MEB platform. The plan is to ramp up production quickly, and it’s all backed up by a massive marketing campaign.

The firm has already said this car is its Beetle or Golf for the electric age, and it’s the flagship of the huge investment in and commitment to electrification made across the whole Volkswagen Group. Volkswagen can’t really afford for the ID 3 not to be a success.

A review into the use of smart motorways

“We know people are dying on smart motorways.” So said transport secretary Grant Shapps back in October when announcing a review into the controversial roll-out of the hard shoulder-less format. Rarely is a politician so candid about the failings of a system currently being implemented, which tells you all you need to know about the dangers motorists are facing on a daily basis.

Perhaps the most baffling recent revelation is that less than a fifth of the smart motorway network is fitted with Stopped Vehicle Detection technology to locate a stationary car in a live traffic lane. Even when the red ‘X’ is illuminated, it’s all too easy for the inattentive not to notice. Our only hope is that the review reveals that major changes are needed to the format – changes that are implemented rapidly in 2020 – before deaths on these roads spike even further.

Elon Musk will escalate his war of words with Porsche and Ford

Whether sending a modified Model S to try to eclipse a Porsche Nürburgring record or staging a tug-of-war between a Ford F-150 and a Cybertruck, Tesla boss Elon Musk hasn’t been afraid to poke at rivals. As they try to muscle in on Tesla’s patch, expect the needling to escalate. Grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy…

An affordable sports EV

If battery-powered supercars had their moment last year, hopefully this year’s motor shows will be filled with more attainable sporty EVs. A two-seat, rear-driven electric roadster with 200 miles of range and a sub-£50k asking price could be a winner, and there are plenty of contenders for who will be first out of the gate. Nissan is open to electrifying a successor to its 370Z, while Mazda has hinted at doing the same for the MX-5. Maybe Toyota could call on BMW again to resurrect the MR2, using an i3s powertrain. Just a thought…

Using real leather in car interiors will become akin to wearing fur

Here’s a theory to get the brain cells bubbling: what if in-car leather trim became as toxic a symbol of don’t-give-a-damn, animal-hating indulgence to wider society as wearing fur already is?

If you’re old enough, you’ll recall how wearing a fur went from an accepted expression of sophistication and opulence to a cruel and wholly unacceptable accessory in a very short period of time back in the 1980s.

Why, then, have so few people so far been moved by the use of vast swathes of cow skin bedecking their car interiors?

Attitudes have started to change (thank you, Land Rover, with its Kvadrat fabric options, which kick-started the movement) and we believe momentum will gather as car makers, especially premium ones, increasingly move to develop their brands and products to fit in with a world view that is increasingly socially aware and environmentally led.

The rise of the electric hot hatch

The Mini Electric looks primed to force the rest of the industry to inject a bit more fun into its compact electric cars. It will add instant torque to the well-established Mini handling formula, quickly making it one of the more entertaining EVs at the affordable end of the price spectrum. The ID 3, Volkswagen’s first ground-up electric car, will be even more influential, with its rear-driven powertrain that promises greater driver engagement – and other car makers’ response to this pair could spark a new performance race.

The reaction we’re hoping for? Add more power. A good starting point would be 250bhp, with plenty of scope to go higher and compete with the current crop of petrol-powered hyper-hatches. Even if it came at the expense of range, being able to demolish performance cars at traffic lights would more than make up for it.

Right now, no electric hatchback has a true performance version, but the major players all have prior form. Peugeot has GTI, Vauxhall has VXR, Hyundai has its N division. Volkswagen adding a second driven axle to create the ID 3 R seems like an inevitability, too.

Carlos Tavares will work his magic on Alfa

If proof were needed that PSA Group boss Carlos Tavares can work miracles (along with imposing harsh cost-cutting measures), one only needs to look at Vauxhall. Just six months after the GM-owned brand was acquired by PSA, Vauxhall made a profit for the first time in two decades. There are high hopes, then, for PSA’s freshly minted deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The merger of the two manufacturers will create the fourth-largest car company in the world.

The new entity will be led by Tavares, and his ability to save flailing brands could be exactly what FCA’s European-focused brands need. Maserati has long intended – but failed – to be an Italian equivalent to the very profitable Porsche. It is currently undergoing a €5 billion (£4.3bn) electrification programme and will launch a new sports car with both electric and combustion engines this year. Meanwhile, Alfa Romeo, despite its loved badge and positive reactions to the Stelvio and Giulia, has been in the doldrums, unable to maximise on its brand appeal or compete with its German rivals.

PSA has described both Maserati and Alfa Romeo as having “substantial development potential”, which leaves us feeling optimistic that Tavares can work his magic.

European car brands aside (and not forgetting Fiat, which desperately needs to pull some tricks out the bag too), the major strength of this merger is in SUVs and vans – the two most profitable segments right now. The union will also give PSA a massive leg-up in the US, where it has, as yet, failed to capitalise on the world’s second-biggest car market.

A Chinese car firm will reach Europe (maybe)

For all the announcements from Chinese car firms about launching into Europe, we’ve yet to see these grand plans come to fruition. That’s due to change in 2020: brands including Aiways, BAIC, Byton and Lynk&Co have all said they will launch here this year. Watch this space.

Reflecting on whether we’ve reached ‘peak car’

There was a time when you’d struggle to sum up the launch of a new generation of car without describing it as being ‘better in every way’. That’s what five years and a few billion spent on R&D tended to achieve. These days? Not so much. Thanks largely to ever-tightening safety and emissions regulations, we’ve largely said goodbye to everything from steering feel and performance-optimised gearshifts to high-revving V10s. For the enthusiast, it’s possible that progress is – temporarily, we hope – coming at a price.

Roads will keep getting busier

Traffic is getting worse. Whether it’s in towns, on motorways or on trunk roads, we’re all spending more time going nowhere. There are three million more vehicles now than in 2014, as the total gets ever closer to 40 million. And you’ve all noticed the extra roads built to support them, right? Erm…

Aston Martin DBX will be a huge success

Let’s make no bones about it: Aston Martin is struggling. Slipping share values and cooler than expected demand for its cars meant 2019 was almost a year to forget. Almost, but not quite, because it also gave us a first glimpse of its long-awaited DBX SUV, the car that will start to reverse the company’s decline.

Why? Well, the obvious point is that it’s an SUV, and a premium one at that. Despite ever-louder calls for reduced emissions and greater social responsibility, the inexorable rise of the off-roader shows no signs of slowing. Then there’s the way the DBX looks, which is really rather good, both inside and out.

Yet perhaps most controversially the DBX will flourish because it’ll be a blast to drive: there’s that glorious AMG engine, decent visibility that allows you to easily place the car’s extremities, four-wheel drive and a Matt Becker-honed chassis. It’ll also be the fastest Aston point to point on give-and-take roads. Crucially, its practicality and comfort will allow you to use it all day every day, not just high days and holidays.

No, SUVs are not the answer, but the talented and handsome DBX will still out-sell all of Aston’s other models combined, and the revenue generated will be poured into the cars we really, really want.

Ford’s Mustang Mach-E will be a very good EV – but Mustang fans will still grumble

The Ford Mustang Mach-E’s name has caused a bit of a stir: fans of the Mustang muscle car have started petitions in a bid to get the firm to change it.

They may be disappointed by the Mach-E, but we reckon those seeking a good electric SUV won’t be: early indications suggest it’s likely to be a credible contender in its class. We’re also intrigued by the prospect of the GT version, which promises to bring a genuine performance edge. It won’t appease a minority of Mustang fans, but it should show Ford can do electric right.

CO2-neutral production will turn sustainability into a buzzword

Car companies with the most advanced EV programmes have already realised that having a cutting-edge zero-emission car isn’t enough. The climate crisis is impacting on every level so, in response, car makers are announcing everything from CO2-neutral manufacturing processes, massive emissions offsetting programmes and – in the case of Bentley – some bee hives at the factory. Deep-rooted change or symbolic gestures, the direction of travel is clear.

City cars will continue their slow death…

“If Europe is pursuing this legal target, there is no single business case for cars the size of the Up,” says VW’s marketing chief Jürgen Stackmann on the future of cheap-to-run, cheap-to-insure city cars.

The target to which he refers is the EU’s plan to cut CO2 from car makers to an average of 95g/km by this year, then by a further 15% by 2025 and 37.5% by 2030. A €95 fine will be incurred for each g/km of CO2 for each car sold over that limit.

So the only way to comply is to electrify the car, which is fine for bigger, heavier models as the increased cost is easier to absorb into the list price or the monthly PCP payment. But there’s no such chance with a car that has been designed to be as affordable and accessible as possible. The result, then, is a system that favours two-tonne plug-in hybrid SUVs over small, light city cars. As Stackmann says, there’s no business case for car makers to develop truly affordable new small cars, which, with CO2 emissions typically around 100g/km and no non-electrified way of them going any lower, are sold on paper-thin margins anyway. Worst of all, legislators have yet to cotton on to this error.

… So buy a city car

Why wouldn’t you buy a city car? With their low weight, skinny tyres, manual gearboxes and eager naturally aspirated motors, they feature the key ingredients for fun. Factor in low prices and low running costs and you’ve got a car that speaks to head and heart. Saving the planet is merely a happy by-product.

Soak up every second of Bloodhound’s journey

There’s something mesmerising about listening to Andy Green, Bloodhound’s driver extraordinaire, explaining how he caught a slide at 600mph like you or I would talk about our day at work. But, let’s not forget, last year’s exploits, which peaked at 628mph, were just warm-up runs prior to the team strapping a rocket to its vehicle and chasing 1000mph this year. It’s a barely comprehensible adventure playing out before our eyes and, just maybe, it might even be enough to get Green’s pulse racing.

Diesel sales will plummet further

“Nobody’s listening,” says Peugeot boss Jean-Philippe Imparato whenever anyone tries to make the case for modern diesel engines. He’s right: to the end of October, diesel sales in the UK had dropped almost 30% year on year to make up less than a quarter of the total cars sold. Just five years ago it was more than 50%.

The reasons why are known: VW’s Dieselgate scandal has rolled into increased awareness of climate change and air quality, yet the distinction between old diesel and new hasn’t been made clear.

A modern diesel has to meet the latest Euro 6 standards so it emits not only less CO2 than a modern petrol engine but in many cases also less NOx and fewer particulates. So in cleaning up air quality, modern diesels are part of the solution, not the problem, and they’re a world away from the dirty belchers on which legislators and mainstream media seem to be focusing when they’re trying to turn us off the fuel.

As we keep saying, diesels make most sense of all for anyone doing big miles. But, as Imparato says, nobody seems to be listening.

Bristol’s diesel car ban will fail

Bristol’s ban on privately owned diesel cars seems certain to fail in its current form, for two reasons. First, the idea of making an example of latest-spec diesels seems more spiteful than sensible, given that the newest engines are as clean as petrol and produce less CO2, and voters don’t appreciate spiteful law-makers. Second, the idea needs big government approval, which is unlikely to be forthcoming for fear that a variety of confusingly complex laws will grow up in our cities. We can see blanket charging or bans on old diesels, but this knee-jerk reaction to a word makes no sense at all.

Detroit will showcase the future of motor shows

Motor shows have been struggling for years as car firms find new ways to showcase their models and plans. Detroit’s solution is to move the event from January to June and turn it into a motoring festival: think Goodwood in Motown. If it works, expect others to try similar ideas.

Ferrari reveals the F8 series will be the last pure internal combustion mid-engined V8 line

The clue is in the name: Tributo. When it comes to mid-engined V8 Fezzas powered by nothing more than petrol and oxygen, expect the F8 to represent the automotive equivalent of the opera singer with an appetite getting up to knock out her song. Yes, there will be an Aperta and a Pista, but when the F8’s replacement is revealed, the V8 will be assisted by something electrical, just like the SF90 Stradale. So take some time to really savour this classic Ferrari recipe, because 2020 is likely to be the last time we’re offered the opportunity to appreciate it.

Motorsport round-up

Lewis Hamilton will break Schumacher’s F1 win record

Eight wins. That’s all Lewis Hamilton needs to surpass Michael Schumacher’s tally of 91 Formula 1 grand prix victories – long thought an unreachable tally – and become the most successful driver in the history of the sport. Can he manage that in 2020? Form is on his side: Hamilton has won at least nine races every year since the current 1.6-litre turbo-hybrid rules came into force in 2014, benefiting from the dominance of his Mercedes-AMG team.

Ferrari and Red Bull closed the gap to Mercedes on pure pace in 2019, but Hamilton still dominated – and in several races he didn’t need the fastest car to win. If anything, the tougher the challenge, the more he thrives.

And if Hamilton can win eight races, he’d almost certainly claim seven titles, matching another Schumacher record.

…But some will still claim he isn’t a true great

He’s got the best car! Modern F1 is too safe! The team do the hard work! Even if Lewis sets a new win record, many will say he isn’t an all-time great. They will, of course, be wrong. 

Sebastian Ogier will finish his career with a seventh title

The return to Citroën turned sour, but three 2019 wins in the C3 underlined Seb’s skills. He retires at the end of 2020, but in the Toyota he will clinch another title, including a Loeb-beating eighth Monte Carlo win. Seven crowns with three marques will seal his status as one of the greats.

Colin Turkington will become the BTCC’s first five-time champ

The BTCC is so competitive it’s hard to really dominate, but the BMW 3 Series was the class of the 2019 field. Quick, clean and respected, lead driver Colin Turkington knows how to win a title. He’s now tied Andy Rouse for the most titles in BTCC history and is well-placed to add a fifth.

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Updated: 2020 Geneva motor show

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