Automotive smart windows: Now and next

A look at the market, applications and technologies, and future trends for automotive smart windows.

Ross Hookway, Marketing Executive

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In an earlier blog we discussed the benefits of Liquid Crystal cells for automotive smart glass, and how they can meet design, cost and efficiency targets. Today, we will take a broader look at the market, current applications and technologies, and future trends.

Market valuations

The automotive smart glass market was valued at $1.4bn in 2021 and is expected to rise in value as consumer demand increases and technologies and production methods mature – to a predicted $8.6bn by 2031 (Allied Market Research).

Smart glass rate of penetration is expected to jump in the next 2 years, driven by demand for technologies that control either the level of in-vehicle privacy (switching from cloudy to clear, but without reducing the brightness), or others that control the level of light transmission into the vehicle (switching from clear to dark).

Recent announcements

Recently, automotive manufacturers have been highlighting the capabilities and availability of smart glass for many new vehicles, in vehicle literature and specs, and by demonstrating at industry events. At the start of the year, BMW presented the iVision Dee concept vehicle on stage at CES. This featured smart glass for every window, including the windscreen (for a head-up display).

Volkswagen, BYD, Cadillac, Toyota, Lotus and Renault have all recently announced or released vehicles featuring smart windows, either as standard equipment or as an option at extra cost. In some cases, the glass itself is branded, with the intention of it being available across the future range, such as Mercedes ‘Magic Sky Control’ and Renault’s ‘Solarbay’.

Demand drivers

There are many factors driving industry adoption of smart window technology in passenger vehicles. Perhaps the biggest factor is commitment to the global phasing out of Internal combustion engines (ICE).

As of today, there are 228 signatories to the Zero Emissions Vehicle Declaration, which states that by 2040 virtually all new vehicles built will produce zero emissions. Signees include national governments, automotive manufacturers, regional governments, cities, technology groups and others.

With this pledge to switch to alternative powertrains, it is imperative that future vehicles are as cost effective and efficient as possible – longer ranges and greater battery life are valuable features for manufacturers and their customers.

For manufacturers, smart glass provides multiple benefits: a ‘high-tech’ feature as a point of differentiation for customers, reduced material costs and increased internal space by removing the need for any shades (particularly for sunroofs) and by providing an additional way to manage heat and light entering the vehicle. This can in turn lead to reduced use of air conditioning/climate control, improving efficiency.

In fact, additional weight and cost savings could be made by installing a smaller climate unit entirely – recent research suggests that smart glass can reduce internal vehicle temperatures by up to 20 degrees. It can also increase the driving range of electric vehicles by more than 5 percent and even cut CO2 emissions by 4 grams per kilometre for ICE vehicles when compared to traditional automotive glass.

However, smart glass is not a new technology, and beyond minor changes in switching speeds and clarity, there have been few improvements and little large-scale use in recent years, despite the very clear benefits.

This could be due to the current manufacturing processes and materials used – today’s automotive smart windows suffer either from unwanted coloration and slow switching speeds, or from low optical clarity, mostly limiting their use to sunroofs.

A flexible future

This is where FlexEnable’s unique materials and manufacturing process using flexible plastic substrates for tintable liquid crystal films brings significant advantages.

At under 100 microns thick, and switching from clear to tinted or anything in-between in less than 0.1 seconds, light can be dynamically controlled for privacy, glare control, or to reduce interior temperature. It can also be segmented into strips or pixellated for even greater, more localised control.

Our automotive smart window technology brings the ability to design in complex biaxial curvature, allowing for placement almost anywhere in a vehicle, enabling designers to create curved, efficient vehicles – key to achieving performance and efficiency targets.

As the automotive industry undergoes its biggest transformation in its history, it will certainly be an interesting one to watch, with such a big shift in requirements and vehicle design literally shaping the future of transport.

For more information on our automotive smart window technology, contact us at info@flexenable.com