The automotive year in review: 4 trends that defined 2015

The past 12 months have been interesting for fleet managers, as many of the much-talked about developments of recent years finally came to fruition. From advancements in green cars to autonomous vehicles hitting the country's shores, 2015 was the year where the industry exhibited significant change. 

Not all of the developments were positive however, with domestic industry stalwarts Ford and Holden announcing the final models of the Falcon and Commodore respectively, two vehicles that have defined Australian car culture for decades. Whether they were finding success on the track or as fleet vehicles, these two cars will be sorely missed by much of the country. 

Despite these changes, the year was a positive one overall, and has set an exciting tone for fleet managers in 2016. 

Here are the trends, events and vehicles that defined 2015 for us. 

1. Green cars became exciting

Broadly speaking, drivers can be lumped into two categories: those that love driving, and those that see cars merely as tools. For years, green vehicles have struggled to capture the attention of the former group, as these cars often sacrifice speed and style for reduced fuel consumption and sustainability. 

The Tesla Model S made green cars exciting this year.

One car changed that in 2015. The Tesla Model S, while originally debuting in 2012, was updated to the formidable P90D spec in 2015, combining terrifying acceleration with electric power. The result was a four-door sedan that could hold its own in drag races against supercars, yet produces zero emissions.

Electric cars in general are likely to become much more usable for Australian fleets as well. These vehicles depend on charging stations and the necessary infrastructure is still evolving throughout Australia. According to the Royal Automobile Club, there are plans to create an 'Electric Highway' in WA that will allow electric vehicles to easily traverse the state. 

If other locations follow suit, the usability of electric cars in fleet applications is likely to grow significantly. 

2. Manufacturers expressed a commitment to hydrogen

Electric vehicles aren't the only cars bringing renewable energy to the automotive world. In fact, there's now a clear rivalry that's likely to benefit fleet managers' wallets and the environment. 

While some manufacturers are backing electric motors as the key to green cars, others have thrown their weight behind hydrogen - also known as fuel cell - vehicles. In principle, these alternatives are very much alike, as both produce zero emissions and are driven by electric motors. 

The difference for fuel cell vehicles is that the batteries are charged by hydrogen, which can be refilled in a similar manner to petrol cars. While Toyota has released the Mirai in limited markets, Honda and BMW have also both committed to the technology, suggesting there's likely to be significant competition between green cars in the future. 

Fleet managers can save money and the world with green cars. Fleet managers can save money and the world with green cars.

3. Fond farewells changed Australian car culture

While a number of automotive brands have had manufacturing plants in Australia over the years, Holden, a branch of General Motors, and Ford have long been the core of the local industry. 

Sadly, the local production for these two brands is coming to an end, bringing with it the demise of one of the hardest fought rivalries in the automotive world. For years, Holden and Ford operated on the ethos of "win on Sunday, sell on Monday", with the Commodores and Falcons the stars of the V8 Supercars Championship. 

Australians were able to show their allegiance to their manufacturer of choice in the vehicle they drove, a pastime that could fade with the legacies of the machines. Naturally, both Ford and Holden have released high-performance variants of these models as farewells, so fleet managers and their drivers can represent their brand of choice one last time. 

4. Autonomous cars hit Australian shores

Self-driving vehicles are arguably the next major revolution for the automotive world, and are expected to reduce fuel consumption and accidents through safer and more efficient driving practices. While Google has been testing its equivalent on the streets of California for years, Australia got its first taste in November thanks to Volvo. 

Volvo tested its autonomous cars in Australia - a first for the country.

The Swedish marque demonstrated the potential of these vehicles on the streets of Adelaide, proving the cars are the perfect fit for the country's roads. According to Volvo Car Australia Managing Director Kevin McCann, this test was just the beginning as Australian roads and regulations adapt to encourage further use of the technology. 

"It is important that collectively as an industry we strive to educate the public regarding this development and importantly encourage government to make the necessary regulatory changes to facilitate the introduction of autonomous drive vehicles to Australian roads," he said. 

Although fully fledged autonomous vehicles are unlikely to be commonplace on the country's roads for a while, many new cars sport autonomous elements in an effort to increase safety and prepare drivers for the future. 

Features such as autonomous emergency braking are a precursor to cars that can drive themselves, and are just a taste of what's to come. 

Many of the trends likely to define 2016 are already underway, with 2015 providing a tease of the technologies soon to be commonplace in the automotive world.