Toyota showed its Concept-i at CES. Yui appears on exterior door panels to greet driver and passengers as they approach the vehicle.

Toyota showed its Concept-i at CES. 'Yui' appears on exterior door panels to greet driver and passengers as they approach the vehicle.

Editor Dave Leggett offers a personal take and review of the year with a look at selected highlights. This instalment takes in the first half of 2017.

(Second half of the year)

How can we sum up 2017 from an automotive industry perspective? In many respects, the fundamental metrics were very positive. Car companies and suppliers made healthy profits, again. Major markets may have struggled to show much growth, but there was enough expansion of demand to make the global pie a little bigger - and ensure another record - again.

And yet, there were some unsettling developments, at least in terms of the way we view the future and underlying trends. Car companies tried, with varying degrees of success, to reassure stakeholders and investors that they have strategic plans to protect their market positions. We heard much on electrification ('e-mobility'), car-sharing and the prospect of driverless cars.

In 2017, developments at the very top of automotive corporations illustrated a new sensitivity to the huge challenges of the future. General Motors decided to exit Europe in a move that reversed the conventional wisdom that a big car company needs to be active in all major world markets. Ford changed its CEO in a move also designed to reassure investors. There was even an organisational  shake-up inside Toyota.

Volkswagen perhaps typified the corporate mood music with its electrification strategy. VW's course may have been prompted by dieselgate fallout, but it captured the industry's new found enthusiasm for electrified vehicles. And electric car specialist (and 'start-up') Tesla's market capitalisation overtook Ford and GM.

What follows is a month-by-month look at the year's highlights. Part 1 takes in the first half of the year.


The year gets off to talk of new mobility business models. Volvo Cars announces  that it will set up a new mobility unit as part of a broad expansion of its car sharing and mobility services strategy. "Private car ownership will not disappear, but as a car maker we need to embrace the fact that it will reduce and – more importantly – change. We have a proven and profitable concept in our home market which we intend to leverage as we develop a global concept," said Håkan Samuelsson, President and Chief Executive of Volvo Cars.

At CES, there were a couple of concepts that provided some insight into how AI could impact the development of the autonomous vehicles of the future. Audi and NVIDIA presented a deep learning concept for a piloted driving car. The clever software in the vehicle 'learns' from journey data points starting with the human driver reactions during real-time driving. The data builds and from these data points the system is able to develop algorithms that can drive the car automatically in response to situations that resemble the earlier data points. The more it drives, the better it gets. Fascinating stuff.

In a theme that he will return to many times in the future, US President Donald Trump criticised the German carmakers for not making enough cars in the US. Trade negotiations are complex matters though and North America's trade rules - under NAFTA - will take some negotiating. By the end of 2017, US proposals for changes surrounding content levels and rules of origin will be deadlocked. The German automotive trade association, the VDA, put up a robust defence of German industry and its overseas investment levels.

As widely anticipated, US president Donald Trump moved swiftly to sign an executive order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) international trade deal, branding the move a "great thing for the American worker". Ford's Fields welcomed that.

At Detroit's Motor Show, the most important models this year were of course the ninth generation Toyota Camry, which will also be the first vehicle using the (TN)GA-K architecture to be manufactured in the US; and the updated Ford F-150 which gains fresh engines, including a diesel.

Over at VW, there were management changes reflecting ongoing fallout from dieselgate. That didn't stop VW Group being global volume leader in 2016 though.

And in Britain, the UK government confirmed that the UK will leave the single market when the UK leaves the EU in 2019. The question of how the UK leaves the EU and the economic consequences will be a debate that will run through the year, with the auto industry impacts at the heart of it.


Toyota and Suzuki said they wanted to work more closely together, concluding a memorandum on beginning 'concrete examinations for business partnership'. The partnership is aimed at saving cost in R&D and sharing ideas on addressing the big challenges facing the auto industry globally.

Daimler's Mercedes-Benz Cars says it will integrate future EQ (electric) models into series production at existing assembly plants on four continents, starting with Bremen followed by Sindelfingen in Germany. The automaker said its new generation of electric vehicles would be based on architecture developed specifically for battery-electric models and would be be scalable and applicable across the model range.

Mercedes-Benz announces a new corporate strategy called CASE – "Connected", "Autonomous", "Shared & Services" and "Electric" and said this agreement is the "next step into the future of shared and autonomous driving". It also said it will partner with Uber on self-driving vehicles.


General Motors decides to sell its loss-making European operations under the Opel/Vauxhall brands. PSA is the buyer in an EUR2.2bn deal. PSA says it is aiming to leverage scale and synergies for the new, bigger group. Turnaround specialist Carlos Tavares strikes an upbeat note as he plays down talk of job cuts at Opel-Vauxhall.

At the Geneva Show, the most important models this year were the Range Rover Velar, Kia Picanto, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Opel Crossland X & Insignia, Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, SEAT Ibiza, Subaru XV, Volkswagen Arteon and Volvo XC60. The VW Sedric self-driving pod concept also grabs some attention - it's a 'lounge on wheels'.

Toyota Motor Europe announced that it will invest a further GBP240m in its Toyota Manufacturing UK (TMUK) car plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire (UK). The move shores up confidence in the outlook for the UK automotive sector despite uncertainties surrounding the UK's exit from the EU and future trading arrangements. As some analysts note, however, the big question-marks for investment are a little further out in the second half of the 2020s.

Volvo Cars confirmed plans for exports of the S90 model from a Chinese plant.

Daimler said it will speed up its e-mobility plans and we heard in Russia how Ford Sollers approaches localisation.


A trip to Seoul brings an interesting perspective from Mahindra boss, Anand Mahindra. Mahindra-owned SsangYong had just launched its new flagship SUV, the G4 Rexton - an impressive looking model from a brand that hasn't always excelled in the design area. The idea now, however, is that SsangYong can succeed in building 'objects of desire'. Just forget the Rodius...

One big talking point in 2017 was the 'success' of Tesla. It may not make money yet, but it certainly has succeeded in winning the support of investors as its market capitalisation overtook that of Ford and GM.

SUVs and crossovers are the talk of the town at the Shanghai Motor Show where the most important vehicle premiere will probably prove to be the Wuling Hong Guang S3, this being the first SUV for the number one brand in the world's largest market.

General Motors said it plans to launch at least 10 electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid vehicle models in China by 2020. GM China CEO Matt Tsien said in Shanghai that GM plans to start production of EVs in China within two years as it responds to the Chinese government's policy of encouraging domestic sales through tax incentives and also possible minimum production quotas in the coming years.

From Delphi, we got a supplier perspective on driverless car technologies. The accelerating pace of change and progress with testing systems is a recurring theme in the industry throughout the year.

After the triggering of 'Article 50' that starts the clock on the UK's exit from the European Union, there were warnings from ACEA and CLEPA of European Brexit damage.


The big news in May is the change at the top of Ford when Ford names Jim Hackett as its new president and CEO, replacing Mark Fields. Hackett moved from being head of the Ford subsidiary that works on autonomous vehicles. Fields followed Alan Mulally into the CEO position in July 2014. However, he comes under fire from investors dissatisfied with lower profitability and a share price that has fallen by around 40% over the past three years. "We're moving from a position of strength to transform Ford for the future," Ford Chairman Bill Ford says

There's more retrenchment at General Motors as it announces cuts to its international operations which it says will save it around USD100m a year. Among the measures announced is a withdrawal from selling Chevrolet vehicles in India (its manufacturing there moves to export only) and South Africa, two emerging markets widely viewed in the auto industry as having good growth potential.


Crisis-hit airbag supplier Takata finally hits bankruptcy, but also bags a buyer - KSS.

It's one of my favourite headers of the year: Saving Skippy - why Volvo's AD prototypes are confused by roos. Volvo Cars discovers that kangaroos in mid-jump befuddle the XC90 autonomous drive prototypes it is testing in Australia. The animals' erratic and unpredictable way of jumping across or along roads confuses the AD cars' software.