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Unicorns in digital economy: 5 emerging trends

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2. From electric vehicles to energy transformation

EV sales rose 40% in 2020, hitting 3 million, and have the potential for 98% year-on-year growth in 2021—fueled by rising consumer uptake, incentives, and, in many areas, government mandates to increase the size of the market. The EV market is expanding to meet this demand, with many major global automakers now offering electric models or committing to an electric transition. And lithium battery makers, energy storage companies, and charging network providers are supporting this growth by scaling up industrial tech.

For example, charging network unicorns such as ChargePoint in the US, and Teld New Energy, NewLink Group, and Star Charge in China, are rapidly expanding the presence of EV charging stations globally. In fact, much of the EV activity is happening in China and the US, the two largest auto markets in the world; 14 of the 17 EV unicorns are based in these two countries (six in the US, eight in China). China was an early mover in this space, and unicorns rapidly expanded its auto market.

The birth of electric vehicles was the first step in the creation of new ecosystems that will engage not only the automotive sector, but also energy, logistics, and financial services. The result will be transportation that is platform-based, offering services to consumers and enterprises. This evolution will occur over the current decade as the speed of charging technology accelerates.

Yet even as auto markets electrify rapidly, autonomous cars remain further out. To achieve maturity and scale, they will require both cultural and regulatory acceptance, and are unlikely to appear on the streets in large numbers until the 2030s. Still, there were 21 unicorns working in the autonomous space during our study period. Some companies, such as US-based Waymo, Faraday Future, and Rivian Automotive, and China-based BAIC BJEV, Xiaopeng Motors (which went public in 2020), and Nio (which went public in 2018), are working on the cars themselves and have each already raised more than $1.5 billion. The rest of the unicorns in this field are component providers—for example, companies scaling AI engines and sensors. 

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