The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by the need to reduce vehicle emissions by environment-conscious consumers and stringent government regulations, and growing importance of technologies such as solar photovoltaic cells and passive solar technology. 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 Environmental sustainability in Automotive: Solar-powered vehicles.  Buy the report here.

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, EV discharge prediction, fuel cell ion exchange membranes, and hydrogen ICE fuel tanks are disruptive technologies that are in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. V2G smart metering, silicon-air batteries, and zeolites for exhaust filtering are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are HEV propulsion systems and wind-powered vehicles, which are now well established in the industry. 

Innovation S-curve for environmental sustainability in the automotive industry 

Solar-powered vehicles is a key innovation area in environmental sustainability 

Solar vehicles are electric vehicles that utilise self-contained solar cells to power themselves fully or partially from sunlight. These vehicles normally contain a rechargeable battery to aid in regulating and storing the energy from the solar cells.

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 100+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established automotive companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of solar-powered vehicles. 

Key players in solar-powered vehicles – 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 solar-powered vehicles

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Toyota Motor 276 Unlock company profile
Ford Motor 142 Unlock company profile
Hyundai Motor Group 111 Unlock company profile
Husqvarna 95 Unlock company profile
Panasonic 73 Unlock company profile
Porsche Automobil Holding 71 Unlock company profile
Kia 64 Unlock company profile
Honda Motor 49 Unlock company profile
Nio 44 Unlock company profile
General Motors 44 Unlock company profile
Mercedes-Benz Group 36 Unlock company profile
Robert Bosch Stiftung 35 Unlock company profile
Hyliion Holdings 31 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi Electric 30 Unlock company profile
Denso 28 Unlock company profile
Beijing Hanergy Photovoltaic Investment 24 Unlock company profile
Smart Auto Labs 21 Unlock company profile
Sharp 21 Unlock company profile
Nissan Motor 18 Unlock company profile
Polaris 17 Unlock company profile
Berkshire Hathaway 16 Unlock company profile
Fisker Automotive 16 Unlock company profile
SoftBank Group 15 Unlock company profile
Nikola 15 Unlock company profile
Nokia 15 Unlock company profile
Saietta Group 15 Unlock company profile
DD Dannar 14 Unlock company profile
BYD 14 Unlock company profile
WiTricity 14 Unlock company profile
Semiconductor Energy Laboratory 14 Unlock company profile
Openhydro Ip 14 Unlock company profile
Raytheon Technologies 13 Unlock company profile
Alphabet 13 Unlock company profile
Tata Motors 13 Unlock company profile
Bayerische Motoren Werke 13 Unlock company profile
Yanmar Holdings 13 Unlock company profile
Wobben Properties 12 Unlock company profile
Zhejiang Geely Holding Group 12 Unlock company profile
Boeing 12 Unlock company profile
Hanon Systems 12 Unlock company profile
Meta Platforms 12 Unlock company profile
LG 11 Unlock company profile
Hexagon 11 Unlock company profile
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Angewandten Forschung 10 Unlock company profile
MicroLink Devices 10 Unlock company profile
Komatsu 10 Unlock company profile
Deutz 10 Unlock company profile
Webasto 10 Unlock company profile
LS Electric 10 Unlock company profile
Sono Motors 9 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Toyota is a key player in the solar-powered vehicles innovation area. The 2023 Toyota Prius has optional solar-powered roof panels. In addition to charging via the engine or a charging station, the cells can also be charged via optional solar cells on the roof. The solar roof can generate electricity equivalent to 1,800km of driving distance per year. Hyundai, Ford, Husqvarna and Panasonic are some of the other key players.

To further understand how environmental sustainability is 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.