Key takeaways

  • By 2030, the automotive industry will be split into two types of manufacturing: shared and customised.
  • The two types of vehicles will require very different types of production, and thus different factories.
  • The need for traditional manufacturing staff will drop dramatically – by about half, by 2030 – as the requirement for data-savvy employees increases.

The dream of everyone zipping along in autonomous vehicles may not yet have materialised, but the automotive industry is changing dramatically nevertheless.

A report by PwC’s consulting business, Strategy&, Transforming vehicle production by 2030, predicts that in just over 10 years, vehicle production will be split between standardised ‘on demand’ rental cars and custom vehicles for those still wanting to drive, or be driven, on their own.

The effect on the auto industry will be immense. Both types of vehicles will require a high level of automation in production, with the traditional workforce expected to be cut by at least 50%. Employees who remain will be those who embrace new skills such as data management. Automakers will also face disruption, as suppliers continue to take on more of their traditional manufacturing work.

A tale of two
assembly plants

The two kinds of vehicle markets will need two different kinds of factories.


Mass market ‘cars on demand’ will require automated ‘plug and play’ plants that focus on large volumes with minimal variation. Cost will be the main factor as ride-sharing companies offering shared mobility buy in bulk by price – not by specification. This makes sense, as drivers will choose a car based on its location rather than by its colour or configuration. While differentiation may be required for particular needs (e.g. a truck for heavy loads, automated vs human driven) these too will be whittled down to a ‘standard’ vehicle for each category.

Standardisation will mean that assembly will be simpler, and suppliers will likely provide greater pre-assembled modules and standardised parts that robots can fit together on an assembly line. This will potentially eat into car manufacturers’ profits, because as the report points out, “as complexity passes to the supply chain, so does value.” Similarly, there will be a threat to manufacturers’ bottom lines from the very ‘mobility-as-a-service’ companies they serve as their popularity replaces their direct link to customers.

Flex champion

The economy of the plug-and-play model is fairly self-evident, but there will continue to be customers who wish to own their own car. As is the case today, these cars will require individualisation and customisation to suit the needs of the buyer, and this differentiation will be what provides competition between manufacturers.

While some cars take more time to assemble than others (e.g. the luxury version vs the standard sedan), there is some flexibility built in to accommodate similar types of vehicles on each assembly line. This flexibility is built into the utilisation rate – a few luxury sedans on a line of standard vehicles doesn’t add a great deal to the average time to complete the build of them all. However, the report predicts that a greater amount of variation is coming – such as hybrid and electric models (which can require very different kinds of assembly). Eventually, the utilisation rate will drop and “the economics of producing vehicles in this way [will no] longer [be] efficient.”

Instead, flex factories will require customised production, with vehicles being autonomously guided through stations specific to their variation (for example, the electric battery station vs the traditional engine station).

What of
the workforce?

The survey data suggests that by 2030, only half the number of people currently working on assembly lines and in body and paint shops will still have jobs. Automation and new requirements of the assembly lines in both kinds of factories simply won’t need humans in the same way. Autonomous guided vehicles will steer customised cars around the shop floor, leading to 50% fewer staff needed in flex factories, while standardised parts will enable fuller automation of mass vehicles with only 40% of staff still required.

To run such automation, however, there will need to be a massive increase in data capability and complexity. Both automakers and their suppliers will need to generate and share all kinds of information – such as the exact dimensions of parts, the specific designs required, location of parts – to enable automation. This means car manufacturers must instead become managers of complex flows of physical materials and their associated data.

Job profiles in plants will change in response. The amount of data engineers needed, for example, will double by 2030 in the flexible plant, and grow by 80% in the plug-and-play plant. Software engineers too, will jump up by 90% and 75% respectively.*

Steering in
the right direction

As the model of car use and production changes substantially for the first time in a hundred years, car manufacturers face significant upheaval.

It will be essential that they, like many other industries facing disruption, build their new workforce now by hiring new people, and reskilling existing employees where possible for the new roles required.

Alongside staffing changes, technology will also continue to evolve, and as it does, the time between R&D and production will shrink. New ways of working, such as agile implementation and flatter hierarchies will be needed to speed up decision making and aid in collaboration.

In short, to survive in a world of increasing disruption, it’s time for car manufacturers to turn off the auto-pilot and take the wheel.




Download the complete report Transforming vehicle production by 2030: How shared mobility and automation will revolutionize the auto industry, from Strategy& for more information on the auto industry revolution.

*For specific job profiles and the likelihood of their increase or decrease in demand, please see the full report.



Heiko Weber

Heiko Weber is the head of Automotive Advisory for Germany, Austria and Switzerland for Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business.

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