The automotive industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is 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 1.7 million patents filed and granted in the automotive industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Innovation in automotive: variable compression enginesBuy 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

Variable compression engines is a key innovation area in automotive

Variable compression engines permit the volume above the piston at the top dead center 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 30+ 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 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 variable compression engines

Company Total patents (2010 - 2022) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Mercedes-Benz Group 64 Unlock Company Profile
Mitsubishi Motors 25 Unlock Company Profile
Toyota Motor 50 Unlock Company Profile
IHI 229 Unlock Company Profile
Schaeffler 14 Unlock Company Profile
Harmonic Drive Systems 22 Unlock Company Profile
Dongfeng Motor 6 Unlock Company Profile
E.ON 16 Unlock Company Profile
Hyundai Motor 196 Unlock Company Profile
Nissan Motor 467 Unlock Company Profile
Hitachi 196 Unlock Company Profile
Envision Energy 8 Unlock Company Profile
Renault 6 Unlock Company Profile
Suzuki Motor 7 Unlock Company Profile
Honda Motor 39 Unlock Company Profile
IFP Energies nouvelles 6 Unlock Company Profile
Porsche Automobil 40 Unlock Company Profile
General Motors 38 Unlock Company Profile
Nabtesco 7 Unlock Company Profile
Bayerische Motoren Werke 21 Unlock Company Profile
Dragerwerk 9 Unlock Company Profile
BorgWarner 13 Unlock Company Profile
Wartsila 11 Unlock Company Profile
Continental 10 Unlock Company Profile
Kia 51 Unlock Company Profile
Ford Motor 67 Unlock Company Profile
Stellantis 13 Unlock Company Profile
Winterthur Gas & Diesel 7 Unlock Company Profile
AVL List 15 Unlock Company Profile
Baoding Innovation Great Wall Asset Management 23 Unlock Company Profile
Wartsila Switzerland 6 Unlock Company Profile
Pinnacle Engines 9 Unlock Company Profile
Hilite Germany 7 Unlock Company Profile
FEV Group 10 Unlock Company Profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Nissan is the top patent filer 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 synchronizing with the driver's intentions. It utilizes a multi-link system that continuously varies piston top dead center (TDC) and bottom dead center (BDC) positions, allowing free control of the compression ratio critical factor of power and efficiency, on demand. IHI, Hyundai, Hitachi, and Ford Motor are some of the other key players.

In terms of application diversity, Hilite Germany held the top position, while Dragerwerk and Nabtesco stood in second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, Harmonic Drive Systems leads the pack, followed by Dragerwerk and Pinnacle Engines.

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.