The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by the increase in demand for heavy commercial and light vehicles, improved driving capability on wet and snowy surfaces, rising sales of luxury cars, rising adoption of AWD/4WD drive systems in passenger cars and heavy trucks, and growing importance of technologies such as torque vectoring and torque sensing. In the last three years alone, there have been over 1.7 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in automotive: differential gear shaftsBuy the report here.

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However, not all innovations are equal, and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilizing and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have.

300+ innovations will shape the automotive industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresight, which plots the S-curve for the automotive industry using innovation intensity models built on over one million patents, there are 300+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, integrated multi-motor drivetrains, electric power steering (EPS), and post-collision handing are useful technologies that are in the early stages of wider application and should be tracked closely. Variable compression engines, V2V distance monitoring, and turbocharger shaft bearings are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) and plasma-jet ignition, which are now well-established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for the automotive industry

Differential gear shafts is a key innovation area in automotive

A differential is a gear train with three drive shafts wherein the rotational speed of one shaft equals the average speed of the others. The differential permits higher revolutions per minute (rpm) to the outside wheel and decreases the inside wheel’s speed when a vehicle is turning. This leads to improved performance on wet and snowy roads.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of differential gear shafts.

Key players in differential gear shafts – a disruptive innovation in the automotive industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators. 

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to differential gear shafts

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Eaton 264 Unlock Company Profile
Neumayer Tekfor 20 Unlock Company Profile
American Axle & Manufacturing 292 Unlock Company Profile
Dana 74 Unlock Company Profile
Magna International 49 Unlock Company Profile
Mercedes-Benz Group 20 Unlock Company Profile
Subaru 27 Unlock Company Profile
Melrose Industries 111 Unlock Company Profile
QinetiQ Group 44 Unlock Company Profile
Mitsubishi Motors 71 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Motor 288 Unlock Company Profile
Musashi Seimitsu Industry 114 Unlock Company Profile
Schaeffler 541 Unlock Company Profile
Robert Bosch Stiftung 21 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 37 Unlock Company Profile
Aisin 71 Unlock Company Profile
Cummins 90 Unlock Company Profile
Nissan Motor 47 Unlock Company Profile
Renault 23 Unlock Company Profile
Honda Motor 167 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil 171 Unlock Company Profile
General Motors 102 Unlock Company Profile
JTEKT 93 Unlock Company Profile
BorgWarner 94 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 32 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 91 Unlock Company Profile
Zeppelin-Stiftung 105 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Schaeffler is the leading player in the differential gear shafts space. The company’s lightweight differential offers a solution that combines low weight and cost efficiency with remarkable design space reduction. This moves away from conventional bevel gear differential designs toward spur gear differentials, which provides opportunities for integrating innovative design ideas and state-of-the-art manufacturing technology. American Axle and Manufacturing, Toyota Motor, Eaton, and Porsche Automobil are some of the other key patent filers in the innovation area.

In terms of application diversity, QinetiQ held the top position, while BorgWarner and Honda Motor stood in second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, QinetiQ leads the pack, followed by Nissan Motor and Eaton.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the automotive industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Automotive.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.