The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity 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 1.2 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in Automotive: Differential gear shafts.

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 stabilising 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.

290+ innovations will shape the automotive industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the automotive industry using innovation intensity models built on over 619,000 patents, there are 290+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, resilient spoke wheels, auto-transmission lubrication circuits, and ignition switching engines are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Engine purge actuators, electro-dynamic braking, and adsorptive vapour recovery system estimation are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are collision avoidance braking control system and direct injection type engines, 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 30+ 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 different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

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

Patent volumes related to differential gear shafts

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Schaeffler 359 Unlock company profile
American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings 109 Unlock company profile
JTEKT 64 Unlock company profile
Honda Motor 56 Unlock company profile
Toyota Motor 56 Unlock company profile
Zeppelin-Stiftung 45 Unlock company profile
Musashi Seimitsu Industry 44 Unlock company profile
Ford Motor 43 Unlock company profile
Cummins 36 Unlock company profile
Eaton 36 Unlock company profile
General Motors 35 Unlock company profile
Melrose Industries 33 Unlock company profile
Porsche Automobil Holding 31 Unlock company profile
Dana 24 Unlock company profile
Neumayer Tekfor Holding 18 Unlock company profile
Magna International 18 Unlock company profile
BorgWarner 18 Unlock company profile
Ricardo 14 Unlock company profile
Mercedes-Benz Group 12 Unlock company profile
Schaeffler Fifth Investment Management 12 Unlock company profile
Nissan Motor 10 Unlock company profile
Magna Powertrain 10 Unlock company profile
Aptiv 9 Unlock company profile
Hyundai Motor Group 8 Unlock company profile
Komatsu 8 Unlock company profile
TEAM Industries 7 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries 7 Unlock company profile
Stellantis 7 Unlock company profile
Hirschvogel Holding 6 Unlock company profile
Linamar 6 Unlock company profile
Aisin 6 Unlock company profile
Hilliard 6 Unlock company profile
BAE Systems 5 Unlock company profile
Lucid Group 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Schaeffler is the leading player in the differential gear shafts innovation area manufacturing light, compact and efficient differentials. 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, JTEKT, Honda Motor and Toyota Motor are some of the other key players in the innovation area.

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


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.