News > The self-drive vehicle frenzy wanes

The self-drive vehicle frenzy wanes

 - 27/03/2019

The car industry’s press releases regarding self-drive vehicles are becoming more cautious and the spectacular launches initially announced for 2020 have been put back due to the complexity and cost of the technology. Since the Tesla and Uber accidents last year in the US, enthusiasm seems to have waned, although the industry continues to invest massively in research.
 
Last week, the two leading luxury German carmakers, BMW and Daimler (Mercedes Benz) announced that they would be joining forces in this area. They now refer to “automated driving technologies and highly automated driving systems on highways” that will be ready for the market in the mid 2020’s.
 
“The car industry is conscious that there will be little margin for error in self-driving systems. The trend is towards an excess of caution before any market availability. The technology is in the pipeline, but will not be released straight away, as the manufacturers err towards more reasonable projections,” indicated Guillaume Crunelle, automobile specialist at Deloitte.
 
As the expert told us, the fatal accidents that hit the headlines in the US somewhat “quashed the appetite for self-drive vehicles, sowing doubt” in the eyes of the public.
The Californian manufacturer Tesla announced that, while it will be ready “towards the end of the year in terms of the technology that enables a vehicle to drive autonomously on freeways, the legislation is not yet up to speed…”
 
“Different obstacles remain,” indicated Thomas Morel, automobile expert at McKinsey. Apart from “the maturity of the technology, its application on an industrial scale, not to mention the legislation,” there is also the “acceptance of the technology by the consumer, without forgetting the price.” At present, we’re talking about “over €50,000 just for the technology required to make the vehicle autonomous,” he concludes.
 
- "Science-fiction" -
According to the expert, "we’re close to letting go of the steering wheel on the motorway,” at least technically. However, he feels that come 2030, we probably won’t see more than 15%, in the most optimistic scenario, autonomous vehicles (that drive themselves entirely in some circumstances) and less than 3% in the most pessimistic scenario, on the roads.
 
The American firm Waymo, subsidiary of Alphabet, whose parent company is Google, “is the leader of self-drive vehicles which clock up over a million kilometres each month,” reminded Morel. According to Morel, the Americans are the top investors in such technology, followed by the Chinese, but he predicts more and more alliances “given the colossal sums involved.”
 
At the end of February, head of PSA, Carlos Tavares, admitted that the cost of a self-drive private car was too high in relation to its added value for the customer. “There is no point in developing private cars that are so costly in the future,” he stated.
 
However, he also indicated that there was a market for autonomous shuttles and Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) or podcars, “vehicles whose technological costs are shared” and in which PSA will be investing. For the private car market, the industry is likely to continue to offer ever-more sophisticated driving aids, while the 100% autonomous market will be that of transport companies.
 
Jacques Aschenbroich, head of Valeo equipment supplier, thinks that “in the coming years, there will be more and more PRT in specific cities in amongst the other traffic”. There will be “a relatively small number of vehicles”, he said, referring to “orders for several hundred thousand vehicles in the next five to seven years”.
“It’s not much for the moment,” he admitted, but “the progress made is massive.”
 
Tommaso Pardi, head of R&D of Gerpisa, is much more sceptical. "PRT may well exist in certain well-defined contexts and in restricted areas of a city, driving at moderate speeds… But the idea of replacing entire fleets by podcars is pure sci-fi for the moment.”


 

(Photos credits: : metamorworks / IStock.com )