Driverless Cars: The Coming Green Transportation Revolution

April 29th, 2013

CC_May2013_Driverless-CarsAnalyst Insight by Damian Shore, Contributing Analyst, Euromonitor International

Long the
stuff of science fiction, the self-driving car is an emerging technology that
has the potential to deliver huge environmental benefits. These include
reducing levels of car ownership, lowering energy demand and reducing the
amount of urban space required for roads and parking spaces. This technology is
on the verge of becoming a viable form of personal mobility, and if it does, road
travel will never be the same again. When a real revolution is in prospect, it
can be difficult to distinguish between the signal and the noise. Unlike adding
an extra blade to your razor, self-driving or driverless cars are the real

Possession of a Passenger Car in selected
countries: 2012

Possession of Passenger Cars in Selected Countries 2012

Euromonitor International data from trade sources/national statistics

How it will work

It’s 6pm
and you are finished work for the day. You open up an app on your smartphone
and request a pick-up. A driverless car arrives five minutes later, you get in,
say “home” and it drops you off, before moving on to its next job. No different
from a taxi you might say? But imagine a city with thousands of these cars at
your beck-and-call and paying a fixed per-km charge (or even a fixed annual
fee) that is much lower than a taxi fare because the labour cost involved is
effectively zero (sorry, taxi drivers!)

has been at the forefront in the development of this technology and has test
vehicles on the road of several US states. According to Audi’s Wolfgang
Duerheimer, “autonomous” cars could be a daily reality “within five to eight

What are the potential benefits?

cars would make car ownership much less attractive by virtually eliminating the
convenience advantage they currently enjoy. Consumers effectively “share”
driverless cars by only having one when they need it. Reduced automotive demand
means huge savings in terms of energy and materials, not to mention reduced

the amount of urban space given over to roads and parking spaces could also be
reduced. Perhaps most importantly of all, hundreds of thousands of lives (and
substantial medical costs) would be saved by eliminating human error – the
cause of most road accidents.

Gaining consumer trust is crucial

But what
about computer error you may cry? That will take time, but if the technology
proves to be robust (and the early signs are very promising), consumer trust
will gradually be gained. After all, consumers already largely put their lives
in the hands of computers every time they board a plane.

legal changes are required to legalise driverless cars, and some interest
groups (particularly car manufacturers worried about going the way of Kodak)
could exert political pressure to delay their implementation. However, in a
globalised market economy, the economic advantages of driverless will
inevitably win out in the long run.

consumers become accustomed to driverless cars and their manifold advantages
are demonstrated, they are likely to be spread rapidly: A survey conducted by
JD Power and Associates in the USA during early 2012 found that 20% of vehicle
owners "definitely would" or "probably would" purchase it
as a feature in their next vehicle if it cost US$3,000. When real revolutions
happen, they happen fast. After all, beyond a tiny coven of geeks, who had
heard of the internet 20 years ago? 

Have a question or a thought to add? Leave us a comment below.

Lydia Gordon

  • emerging technology

    I read this blog and very happy.

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