Self-driving car polls could lead to you believe that most Americans are clueless about what they want in a robot vehicle. But a new study offers what seems to be an entirely plausible scenario: by 2030, a quarter of all miles driven in the U.S. will be in self-driving electric cars.
The reason? According to the study from the Boston Consulting Group, residents in large cities will shift their driving habits thanks to a convergence of three emerging trends: ride-sharing, autonomous cars, and vehicle electrification. Driving in a vehicle that captures all three-in-one makes for a “far more compelling economic case than any of these forces alone,” BCG says.
Due to their ability to cut travel costs by 60%, shared autonomous electric vehicles (SAEVs) could shift about 25% of miles traveled from private automobiles-—creating enormous benefits for consumers as well as causing major disruption to the automotive industry. While total vehicle demand will only be affected slightly, by 2030 more than 5 million conventional cars per year could be replaced by a combination of fully autonomous electric vehicles for urban fleets and partially autonomous cars for personal use.
Of course, this all hinges on whether efficient, safe autonomous vehicles can be rolled out in such a fashion. Ford and Mercedes, for instance, think it can happen by 2021.
For an average car owner in Chicago who racks up 10,000 miles per year, BCG estimates that $7,000 could be saved annually by switching to a shared, electrified autonomous vehicle. BCG thinks this shift will begin gradually by the beginning of next decade, and “likely” occur in cities with more than 1 million people. (Did they read Jalopnik for this?)
The obvious caveat here is the myriad technological, regulatory and infrastructure challenges that lay ahead: For one thing, consumers remain skeptical of the technology or simply don’t want to give up owning a vehicle, BCG says, which tracks with recent findings.
Infrastructure’s also key. Ford has an idea for building a City of Tomorrow, replete with the kind of technology BCG is highlighting here, but without sound infrastructure, it’s a fool’s errand.
And BCG notes that automakers and tech firms invested in producing self-driving cars aren’t keeping up to meet this kind of goal.
“Such an evolution in mobility is no longer a fantasy. The technology exists and our research shows that many consumers will embrace it,” said BCG’s Brian Collie, in a statement. “Yet few players are taking the bold steps needed to position themselves to thrive in this not-too-distant future.”
BCG doesn’t believe total vehicle demand will change drastically. But say there will be quicker technological breakthroughs in the near-future, and as public perception toward AVs begins to shift, the firm estimates that 4.7 million autonomous electric vehicles will, by 2030, replace 5.1 million conventional cars sold in the U.S. The study also estimated that, in Chicago, as much as 20 percent of public transit miles could shift to shared autonomous cars. Obviously that sort of shift could put significant stress on a public transit system’s viability, so BGC suggests cities could “plan for the loss of transit income by finding other sources of tax revenue, such as fees on SAEV fleets and trips” or possibly purchase a fleet of cars. (We’re already seeing U.S. cities beginning to subsidize ride-sharing services like Uber.)
Still, though it seems plausible, the study seems to posit an ideal scenario: in particular, it neglects the impact of human beings, who are, by nature, human. Mixing autonomous and manually-driven cars on the road poses a number of potential issues, and if severe accidents continue to occur, public trust in AVs might deteriorate even further.
And here’s another unknown variable: the potential impact of companies involved in self-driving tech trying to cannibalize one another.