Future Impact of Self-Driving Cars Study

August 15, 2012

Consulting firm KPMG and the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan released a report this month about how close the industry is to rolling out self-driving cars. They see the first such vehicles hitting showrooms in 2019, with a more developed infrastructure by 2025.

However, KPMG and CAR said the implications of a totally driverless car that doesn’t crash would be huge:

* Automakers cut weight from cars and trucks as crashless cars do not need to be made with as much reinforced steel or as many safety devices like airbags. That would lower vehicle costs, speed up vehicle development time and boost fuel efficiency.

* Automated cars would drive in tighter packs because computers would control their speed and spacing. That would mean smaller roads were necessary and result in the elimination of shoulders and guardrails, leading to a significant reduction in the $75 billion spent annually on roads, highways and other infrastructure.

* With computers controlling the cars, driving would be more efficient and thus faster, leading to less congestion on the roads. Fuel consumption would decline and companies that rely on just-in-time delivery could reduce inventories even further.

* Automated cars also would allow for the elimination of traffic and road lights in many cases. That would slash energy use drastically.

* Driverless cars would mean a change in the way drivers are insured, and could even end the need for car insurance.

* Hospitals would lose more than two million crash victims sent annually to U.S. emergency rooms.

* Crashless cars would mean auto repair shops see fewer damaged cars, meaning they would need to shift their business model to serving the aftermarket needs of existing cars that lack autonomous driving systems.

* Steelmakers would have to adjust to a world where cars use less of their product.

* State and local governments would have to adjust to the loss of traffic fines, possibly reducing their police forces. Governments might seek to replace some of that lost revenue; perhaps with infrastructure usage fees.

* Less expensive, driverless cars would open ownership to new audiences like younger generations or even the blind, but they also could lead to wider vehicle sharing that would slash global sales.

* If vehicle sharing expanded, cars could be summoned as needed and people could pay for mobility services as needed instead of owning a vehicle.

* Autonomous transportation could eliminate the need for and cost of high-speed trains.

* Vehicle sharing could keep vehicles in more constant use, reducing the need for parking lots that take up a lot of land in cities.

* Lighter, easier-to-build cars could open the auto industry to new rivals using a model like Apple’s, where a company designs and markets a product but outsources its construction.

* A connected, driverless car network would require security from hackers and would raise privacy concerns with many consumers.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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