The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by the need for enhanced engine efficiency and electrification, and the growing importance of technologies such as Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. 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: Variable compression engines. 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, 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

Variable compression engines is a key innovation area in automotive

Variable compression engines permit the volume above the piston at the top dead centre to be altered. Higher loads need lower ratios to increase power, while lower loads need higher ratios to enhance efficiency and lower fuel consumption.

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 variable compression engines.

Key players in variable compression engines – 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 variable compression engines

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Nissan Motor 295 Unlock company profile
Hyundai Motor Group 123 Unlock company profile
IHI 112 Unlock company profile
Hitachi 103 Unlock company profile
Mercedes-Benz Group 59 Unlock company profile
Porsche Automobil Holding 38 Unlock company profile
Honda Motor 26 Unlock company profile
Toyota Motor 25 Unlock company profile
General Motors 22 Unlock company profile
Ford Motor 22 Unlock company profile
Kia 22 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi Motors 21 Unlock company profile
Baoding Innovation Great Wall Asset Management Company 20 Unlock company profile
Harmonic Drive Systems 19 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries 17 Unlock company profile
Bayerische Motoren Werke 15 Unlock company profile
BorgWarner 14 Unlock company profile
Schaeffler 13 Unlock company profile
AVL List 11 Unlock company profile
Wartsila 11 Unlock company profile
E.ON 10 Unlock company profile
Dragerwerk 9 Unlock company profile
FEV 8 Unlock company profile
Suzuki Motor 7 Unlock company profile
Nabtesco 7 Unlock company profile
Hilite Germany 7 Unlock company profile
Dongfeng Motor 5 Unlock company profile
Renault 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Nissan is a key player in the variable compression engines innovation area. Nissan’s variable compression engine is the world's first production variable compression ratio engine that achieves high efficiency and high power while synchronising with the driver's intentions. It utilises a multi-link system that continuously varies piston top dead centre (TDC) and bottom dead centre (BDC) positions, allowing free control of the compression ratio critical factor of power and efficiency, on demand. Hyundai, IHI, Hitachi, and Mercedes Benz are some of the other key players.

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.