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The auto industry is undergoing what is arguably the most disruptive and challenging period since Henry Ford democratized the horseless carriage. While the industry has rebounded considerably since the economic crisis of 2009, enjoying five good years of acceleration in new car sales, drivers seem to have hit the brakes in 2017.
Yet it’s not just a drop in consumer purchasing power that’s slowing auto sales. Our world is changing at exponential speed, and new technologies are being rapidly adopted. Sustainability, the sharing economy, and never-before-seen crowd-based innovation are tearing down old paradigms and dramatically reshaping the way we live. The auto industry is not immune to this tsunami of change.
The fundamental challenge today is the reality that every single aspect of the automotive experience — from who is going to drive cars, to whether we will drive cars — is being shaken to its core. The era of IoT and the promise of autonomous vehicles has catalyzed what is perhaps the largest industrial arms race in recorded automotive history. It is a race for the future of the connected lifestyle, shared mobility and, crucially, the new monetization streams promised by that lifestyle. Automakers are struggling to harvest these new opportunities. Few industry players are prepared for — or even willing to publicly acknowledge — that grand challenges which lie ahead of autonomous shared mobility monetization.
With all of these radical shifts and challenges emerging simultaneously, 3D printing is emerging as the auto industry’s saving grace. In fact, additive manufacturing is already proving itself to be the ultimate game-changer.
Consider this: In 2014, Local Motors unveiled the Strati, a 3D printed car from an ABS carbon-fiber blend. This was four years ago, and the world’s auto manufacturers were already realizing that the industry was heading toward a major shift. Today, 3D printing technology is enabling manufacturers to produce cars that are cleaner, lighter and safer, and to produce them more quickly and at a lower cost. The auto industry’s growing embrace of 3D printing will not only give us cars that are more affordable, but also more technologically advanced and better for the environment. It may almost sound too good to be true.