Confidence dips in global automotive sector as car makers face slower growth and higher costs

  • Automotive leaders in China buck global trend, as the only country to report growing confidence in sector
  • Growing consensus on growth expectations for EV market
  • Industry ‘less prepared’ for future complex technology challenges

10 January 2024| KPMG’s 24th Annual Global Automotive Executive Survey

Auto executives around the world are entering 2024 with less confidence that the industry will achieve more profitable growth over the next five years, according to the latest KPMG Global Automotive Executive Survey.

Now in its 24th edition, the survey of more than 1,000 senior executives in thirty countries and territories reveals a dip in optimism as the sector deals with concerns over the global economy and rising costs. Overall, just 34% of executives said they are extremely confident versus 41% in the previous year. In Japan, the share of executives surveyed who are extremely confident dropped from 32% last year to 10% in the latest survey. Meanwhile, in Western Europe, extremely confident respondents dropped from 31% last year to 24% and fell from 48% to 43% in the US. Only in China did extreme confidence rise, moving from 28% to 36 %. Among suppliers, extreme confidence fell from 55% to 23%. Do

Executives have a more mature view of the electric vehicle (EV) transition.

Executive expectations about the shift to electric powertrains continue to mature. In the past, when KPMG asked executives across the industry about how they expected EV penetration to trend in their markets, the responses varied widely. Now the range of estimates has narrowed, a sign of greater realism. Even so, the mean estimates for penetration rose in this year’s survey. In Western Europe, for example, respondents last year estimated that battery-electric vehicles would account for 24% of sales in 2030; this year the consensus estimate was 30%. In the US, the estimate went from 29% to 33% and in China the estimate jumped from 24 percent to 36 percent.

Despite the flurry of new models by established brands, KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey respondents still expect Tesla to remain on top. The opening of the Tesla Gigafactory near Berlin in March 2022 is helping the car maker gain share and heightening awareness about the global competition among European executives.

Gary Silberg, Global Head of Automotive at KPMG International, said: “A year ago, we said that automotive executives sensed the future was theirs to seize. In the latest survey, more than 1,000 executives in 30 countries again said they see enormous opportunities. But they are becoming more sober in their assessment of market prospects. Having committed more than half a trillion dollars to the EV transition, the industry is asking when companies will see a return on the investment. Right now, almost all automakers are losing money on their battery-electric vehicles, possibly presaging a shakeout among EV manufacturers and suppliers.

Our 24th annual survey examines in detail how executive sentiment is changing and the concerns and challenges that make global automotive leaders more cautious. The upshot: to help ensure companies end up as winners, not losers, executives should rethink their strategies and ask themselves some difficult questions about potential shifting consumer habits, especially driven by a cost-of-living crisis, the possibility of fewer government subsidies, and how the industry can potentially vertically integrate, creating more efficient operating systems. 

Finding the right answers to these and other strategic questions will help determine how companies succeed in the coming years. We believe that a dazzling future for the automotive business—with amazing products, more delighted consumers, and a positive impact on the planet—is still in view. But getting there will require overcoming near-term challenges.”

Dex Machido, Automotive Sector Lead at KPMG in Southern Africa, said: “The outcome from this year’s survey points to clear and imminent challenges for the Automotive Industry in South Africa.

The accelerated uptake of alternative drivetrains by key markets such as Europe and others brings into question the ability for South Africa to produce relevant products for export while continuing to cater for domestic customer needs. There is also a need to address customer experience challenges in accelerating the local adoption of new energy vehicles beyond early adopters. This makes it necessary for the industry to develop greater strategic clarity, taking into consideration the ability to transition, especially in the context of addressable market segment and value for customers.”

Customer experience is a key differentiator

While performance remains the most important selling point, a seamless and hassle-free customer experience has moved up to second place. The emphasis on a smooth customer experience extends from buying the car to having seamless operating software in it, but the latter is a challenge for manufacturers. The car’s hardware is usually reliable, the software less so.

The software-defined vehicle provides an opportunity to supply all sorts of driver applications. But consumers are not likely to sign up for software subscriptions if the products aren’t compelling. In this year’s survey, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) executives in particular are less confident than in previous years that they can generate subscription revenue. How good is cybersecurity? Widely publicised breaches have raised concerns about automotive cybersecurity. In our survey, executives are still confident that auto makers provide adequate cybersecurity and customer data protection, but they may be over-confident.

‘Just in case’ is overtaking ‘Just in time’

After the disruptions of the past few years the new norm in supply chain management is becoming “just in case,” rather than “just in time.” Companies are pursuing a wide range of strategies to build resilience and things are far better than two years ago. Still, there is a high level of concern about the continuity of supply for many commodities and components over the next five years. But not in China. As we saw across the survey, in many important areas, China is different. This was particularly true in supply chain. Chinese executives are considerably less worried about continuity of supply, likely because the country has been setting much of the supply of key commodities, particularly raw materials for EV batteries.

The technology challenges grow more complex

In the latest survey, automakers indicated that they feel less prepared than in the previous year for advanced technologies, such as artificial intelligence, digital twins, and advanced robotics. Only 12 % of auto executives said they felt extremely well prepared, down from 22% the year before.

The change is likely associated with the rapid advances in artificial intelligence, particularly generative AI, which is expected to bring automation to white-collar jobs. Automakers are going to have to train more workers to take advantage of AI in all its forms and must compete with other industries to hire people with the requisite skills.

When it comes to powertrain technology, this year more companies seem to be hedging their bets. Hybrid technologies have jumped from fourth to second place overall in technology.

Faced with so many challenges and opportunities, executives should recalibrate strategies—and act. KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey team has outlined four key priorities for top leaders to better position them in the altered automotive business:

  1. Manufacturers should hedge their bets about the trajectory of both the internal combustion engine and all the alternatives. However, if they spread themselves too thin they risk losing to competitors that more successfully predict the future and focus more narrowly. The answer, then, is to entertain heretical theories, employ a diverse array of talent with different perspectives, and make your best bets.
  • Generative AI has captured the imagination of business leaders across industries and is vastly expanding access to AI. We believe AI technology will likely touch virtually every aspect of the automotive business, from the way autos are designed and manufactured to how they are sold and driven. The critical question for auto executives, then: Is your AI strategy sufficiently comprehensive and forward-looking?
  • Car manufacturers have tended to go it alone when it comes to developing automotive technologies, often with unspectacular results. Given the array of business opportunities and the limited pool of skills, auto companies have little choice but to look outside for the ideas and know-how they need to supercharge their R&D operation.
  • The EV transition highlights important differences in national auto markets. Demand for electric vehicles is soaring in parts of Europe, the US and China. In other big markets, such as India, Latin America, and Africa, the growth of electric cars will be slower, hampered by low incomes and poor infrastructure. Global automakers cannot afford to ignore these regions because of their growing populations and diverse needs. At the same time, automotive companies must continue to build resilience to ongoing geopolitical turmoil and changes in the global economy that affect supply chains and markets.

To read KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey in full, go to: www.kpmg.com/automotive

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