A new study conducted by consulting firm McKinsey & Company finds that widespread adoption of autonomous-drive autos could result in a 90 percent reduction in vehicular accidents, and a $190 billion reduction in health costs and property damage in the U.S. each year – not to mention saving tens of thousands of lives. The study also predicts that the initial shift from human-driven to driverless vehicles will begin in the early to mid-2020s, and attain mass adoption by 2030.
McKinsey & Company senior partner Hans-Werner Kaas says, “Autonomous vehicles and the path toward them is one of the most shaping trends in the auto industry today.”
Automakers and consumers are already taking technological “baby steps” on that path. According to WardsAuto.com the number of installations of active safety features on passenger vehicles built in the U.S. have been meager, but are increasing. In 2013 just 1.1 percent of vehicles featured adaptive cruise control. Last year that number grew to 1.4 percent. In 2014 8.4 percent of vehicles built in the U.S. featured lane-departure prevention technology, up from 3.4 percent the previous year. And sales of vehicles featuring blind-spot alert technology rose to 10.1 percent in 2014, up from just 6.3 percent in 2013.
McKinsey and Company’s prediction that autonomous-drive will attain mass adoption by 2030 is a conservative one compared to those of some very high profile auto executives. Tesla Motors Inc.’s co-founder Elon Musk, for example, has predicted that a road-ready fully autonomous vehicle will be ready for mass production in five years.
The fact is, no one has a crystal ball when it comes to the future of the auto industry. Fifteen years ago, a number of auto executives predicted that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would dominate the industry by 2020. Still others have made similarly bold predictions about natural gas powered vehicles.
University of Michigan robotics professor Ryan Eustice says fully autonomous-drive vehicles still face a number of hurdles before the dream can become a reality. Among the most daunting obstacles are the fact that autonomous vehicles can’t yet be relied on to perform correctly in bad weather, or in locations where mapping technologies are not up to date. In short, Eustice warns, “The idea has been a little bit oversold in terms of having the problems solved.”
Regardless of when the shift to self-driving vehicles takes place, the McKinsey study predicts that it will have a profound effect on the traditional automotive business model which includes pay-for-use instead of vehicle ownership. Insurance companies will also undergo changes, according to the study, as they make the shift away from driver risk profiles to focus on highly complex technical liabilities.
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