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New technology increases risks, opportunities for auto manufacturers

Auto manufacturers unable to keep pace with the changing technological landscape will be the most exposed to potential negative rating actions in the long term.

automotive technology auto manufacturersThe advent of ride sharing and car sharing, the quickening pace of research into autonomous vehicles and the migration toward electrified powertrains are driving radical changes in the global auto industry and creating opportunities for auto manufacturers, according to Fitch Ratings.

The potential long-term effects will be substantial as the technological landscape continues to shift, although we believe the effect of these changes will not threaten traditional auto manufacturers and suppliers in the next few years.

Technological change has been a hallmark of the global automobile industry for more than a century. Today, the pace of change is accelerating more rapidly than at any other time in history as advances in information technology lead to new capabilities and business models that threaten to upend the industry’s status quo.

So far, the impact of automotive autonomy and electrification changes on ratings has been fairly limited, as much of this work is still in the developmental stage. Fitch is closely following the pace of technological advancements and considering the competitive positioning of both auto manufacturers and suppliers as the landscape evolves. In the intermediate term, Fitch expects to see significantly higher research and development expense and capital expenditures devoted to emerging technologies, along with more merger and acquisition activity as well.

As the automotive world shifts, Fitch will assess the costs and expected benefits of these investments when forecasting the effects on issuers’ credit profiles and, consequently, ratings. Fitch will evaluate the potential negative effects on the credit profiles of those issuers who fall behind the curve and are unable to effectively compete or whose products lose relevance in a changed competitive environment.

In general, Fitch anticipates auto manufacturers unable to keep pace with the changing technological landscape will be the most exposed to potential negative rating actions in the long term. Likewise, auto suppliers who specialize in low-technology componentry, especially basic components for internal combustion engines, could see negative rating actions in the longer term.

Given the pace of change and the stage at which each of these technologies is at in the development process, it is likely broader adoption of electrified powertrains will occur before widespread availability of driverless technologies. As such, it is likely the potential negative effects of these changes will be felt first by traditional powertrain suppliers, although it will likely take at least several years before electrification leads to any significant rating actions. The effects of vehicle autonomy on issuers’ ratings will likely be somewhat further down the road, but they could be significant.

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