Sometime next year, General Motors will introduce the SuperDrive system on the new Cadillac CT6 sedan. Capable of hands-free freeway motoring, it will help usher in an era of autonomous driving that proponents – including GM – believe will revolutionize the transportation industry.
But a new study warns that not all the changes to come will be good for GM and other automakers. Titled “Disruptive Mobility,” and produced by Brian Johnson, a Barclays automotive analyst, it warns that self-driving vehicles could lead to a sharp drop in U.S. car sales in the years ahead.
Over the next 25 years, as autonomous vehicles become the norm, rather than the exception, the study predicts U.S. car sales will drop from nearly 17 million this year to perhaps 9.5 million. That’s even lower than what the industry experienced during the depths of the Great Recession.
Eventually, there could be as few as 100 million vehicles on American roads, Johnson forecasts, down from 250 million today.
“While extreme, a historical precedent exists,” writes Johnson. “Horses once filled the many roles that cars fill today, but as the automobile came along, the population of horses dropped sharply.”
One reason for the sharp drop in sales, Johnson anticipates, is that American households will be less likely to own and operate a fleet of vehicles. Instead, autonomous vehicles will be shared by various family members.
Meanwhile, there will be other, more affordable options, emerging that might convince more Americans to abandon vehicle ownership. That includes car-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft. Some motorists have already begun to turn to those services as cost-effective alternatives. And the appeal might grow even greater if such ride-sharing ventures can field driverless vehicles to cut their own costs – a goal expressly targeted by the CEO of Uber.
“By removing the driver from the equation, the average cost per mile to the consumer could be 44 cents for a private ride in a standard sedan and 8 cents for a shared ride in a two-seater,” calculated Johnson, becoming far cheaper than operating a privately owned vehicle.
(Nissan will build autonomous vehicles by 2020. For more, Click Here.)
Once autonomous vehicles become commonplace, Johnson foresees four categories of automobiles:
- Privately owned cars and trucks driven by individuals to work in rural areas;
- Family autonomous vehicles shared by an entire family;
- Shared autonomous vehicles that might be summoned by a smartphone app, much like the current Uber and Lyft system operates; and
- Pooled autonomous vehicles that would be shared among multiple riders, much like a bus.
GM and other automakers have begun to acknowledge that the century-old model of personal vehicle ownership is in transition. Ford Motor Co. CEO Mark Fields earlier this year outlined the automaker’s ongoing efforts to create a new “mobility” strategy. Ford has been actively partnering, for example, with car-sharing services that provide vehicles for short-term rental.
But the makers continue to hope that the pessimistic outlook painted by the Disruptive Mobility study won’t come to pass.
(Click Here for details about Google’s plans for testing its cars in cities.)
A separate study, titled “Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Cars — Not If, But When,” predicted that by 2035, self-driving cars, or SDCs, will account for half the vehicles sold in North America. Worldwide sales will reach about 11.8 million, according to IHS Automotive, which prepared the report released last January. By 2050, the consulting firm estimated, almost all vehicles will offer an autonomous mode.
Separate research by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that the vast majority of American households owning three vehicles or more actually could get by with fewer cars, trucks and crossovers. It reported that in only 2% of those homes were there overlapping trips that would routinely require at least three vehicles.
(To see more about feds plans to rush out connected car rules, Click Here.)
If the cost of alternative transportation were to drop enough, that would suggest many such households might trim back the number of vehicles in their garages.