FROM THE EDITOR: The automotive outlook for 2021

​​​​​​​The automotive outlook for 2021

Welcome to issue number 8 of the just-auto magazine. 

Well, that was quite a year wasn't it? Back in January, news emerged of a new coronavirus outbreak in China. It seemed like a localised problem for China at the time, but it quickly became much more serious. Then there was northern Italy. And then - in a matter of weeks - it was everywhere and by the spring, populations across the globe were being told to stay at home.

The word 'unprecedented' gets used a lot, but this really was - at least in our lifetimes: a full-blown pandemic. Many lost their lives and health services were in danger of being overwhelmed. After the population lockdowns, and some apparent summer respite, came the autumn and a 'second wave' of infections and we're not out of it yet.

For many industries the consequences of the public health crisis and its associated economic impacts have been severe. Travel and tourism all but collapsed. Online retail surged as non-essential shops were shunned. Air travel is still at a small fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Those that could found themselves working from home and many won't ever go back to travelling to the office on a daily basis. There were some winners. Alternatives to in-person events and meetings have thrived. We still need to communicate with each other. We are, though, very wary of the virus risks. Many have become much more acutely aware of the life-work balance. Indeed, COVID-19 will leave a permanent legacy of changed lifestyles and attitudes. The big question is how much and how economies and industries adapt to this 'new normal'.

In automotive, like others, a recovery from the very dark days of lockdown (dealers and factories shut, activity down to almost zero) has been in place. That's welcome of course and has created sufficient demand to get Covid-compliant factories operating again. However, market recovery has been uneven and we are still some way off of where we were in 2019. Confidence - among consumers and businesses - remains fragile. Much is dependent on a substantial easing of the public health crisis. There are vaccines on the way though and that’s going to provide increasing relief through 2021.

For this issue, we reached out to a selection of people in the industry to find out how they are feeling. I’m glad we did. It was good to hear the learnings and lessons from the tough times people have been through. We would all rather we had not had to go through it, but given that we have, we have to accept where we are and look to the future.

There is much we can be proud and optimistic about. The auto industry led the way in repurposing its factories for manufacturing PPE to support health services, a sure sign of the industry’s long-held attribute of adaptability. Companies supported their workforces and loyal suppliers where they could; from a very early point in the crisis, they looked to conserve cash wherever possible. It was a tricky balancing act, but I was impressed with the general response from OEMs and big suppliers. A crisis like this one hitting everyone shows up many good behaviours. Heart-warming.

That ability to be adaptable will be much needed for businesses all across the global automotive value chain in 2021. As will a positive attitude. Take a look around at the many innovations and technological advances in automotive. They are still coming and it’s just fantastic to see.

Our sector faces many challenges, but then so does all of humanity. No change there.

My best wishes to all for 2021.

Dave Leggett, Editor

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