Autonomous vehicles are set to make the roads a very different place in future years. But what about the consumer market? Will autonomous vehicles enable more people to have access to premium makes and models?
At the current moment in time, the only companies producing fully autonomous vehicle prototypes are premium manufacturers, such as Mercedes, Tesla, Audi and BMW. Many companies are producing some semblance of autonomy in vehicles, from parking assistance to cruise control, but where autonomy levels rise towards driverless vehicles, the market narrows.
The technology is still in its relative infancy, with many companies testing their autonomous vehicles but few fully succeeding yet. When it comes to a point where drivers will be purchasing autonomous vehicles, there are companies who will be ahead of the curve.
It’s also key to note that a number of more mid-range car companies, such as VW, Vauxhall and Citroen, aren’t making developments into autonomous vehicles at this point in time – most likely due to their stocks of regular vehicles that they would prefer to sell and focus on – meaning that a lower cost autonomous vehicle will not be available for some time.
While premium car brands seem to be the only ones working on autonomous vehicles, this doesn’t mean that people won’t have access to the premium cars they are producing in the future. At the moment, the autonomous systems cost as much, if not more, than the vehicle they are being installed in, but this won’t always be the case.
Jon Lauckner, chief technology officer at General Motors, believes that, “over time and with scale, cost will dramatically fall, bringing the technology within reach of the market.” (The Register) A big part of that cost reduction, after time, will be due to the introduction of custom chips developed to deal with the vast amounts of data that sensors from the car will acquire.
Additionally, cost will be reduced through insurance as well. David Williams, Technical Director at AXA UK, states that, “connected and autonomous vehicles are nearly with us and will transform the way we live – they really are that impactful. The most important element is that they will make roads much safer, leading to less accidents, injuries, and cheaper insurance premiums.”
Changes to ownership
It’s more or less assumed that the first self-driving cars won’t be used by individuals first; instead, autonomous vehicles will initially find their place in society through lift sharing services and taxis, such as Uber and Lyft.
With many drivers giving up on car ownership already, due to costs and practicalities, autonomous cars could be the final straw, providing a viable alternative to getting where you need to go. Many car companies are already leasing vehicles instead of selling them outright – this will just adapt to autonomous vehicles when the time comes, with possibilities for subscription or car-sharing services, according to Stephen Edelstein, writing for The Drive.
Tesla has already said that, “it will allow individual owners to rent out future self-driving cars for a ride-hailing service,” but this is considered more niche since it still depends on one person owning and looking after a car that a number of people use.