It is predicted that over the course of the next decade, driverless technology will transform the way that we take to the road. There are six levels of automation, ranging from ‘no automation’ to ‘full automation’ and it’s believed that the first fully autonomous vehicles will be available between 2020 and 2025. This data is according to the Society of Automotive Engineers. We still have a way to go before we can work out the logistics, like preventing hacking, how the cars will interact with pedestrians and how the law will adapt. However, it’s definitely correct to say that fully automated cars are not so far in the distant future, so let’s take a look at how accessible they will be to the average working-class citizen.
Choice of Vehicle
Practically every major name in the vehicle industry is working on some form of autonomous vehicle technology. Ford, BMW, Renault-Nissan and GM are just some of the brands acquiring startup technology companies, hiring new talent or developing their own technology in-house. Historically, car makers have mostly focused on the body of their cars, and now they are suddenly finding themselves having to think about the software and elements of digital. With so many different industries suffering from not adapting quickly enough from analogue to digital, the car industry (estimated to be worth $2tn) is showing no signs of wishing to join that list.
BMW aims to have a fully autonomous car on the market by 2021 and is making steps towards that goal by partnering with a number of technology companies, including China’s own version of Google, Baidu. The first driverless flagship car will be the iNEXT, and it will most likely be electric. Ford has also announced that 2021 will be the year that they release a fully autonomous vehicle with no foot pedals, or steering wheel – this is particularly ambitious as its unknown when the law to have a car on the road without a steering wheel will be accepted in the UK. Honda has said that it aims to offer driverless technology on a range of models from 2020. Lastly, General Motors hasn’t stated when it expects to have a fully autonomous vehicle on the market, but it recently invested $500m in Lyft, and $1bn in a Detroit-based driverless test centre.
Will Everyday People be Able to Afford Them?
Self-driving cars are often sold as a dream for people who have limited mobility, as it will finally offer them their freedom – they can go anywhere they please, without relying on family members. However, this amazing technology, where a person will never need to touch a steering wheel or pedals, will come at a price. IHS Automotive has predicted that in 2025, driverless technology will add up to $10,000 on to the cost of a new car, before eventually dropping to $3,000 in 2035 when the technology is more common. IHS also predicted that only in 2050, will there be more autonomous cars on the road than ones that are driven by a human.
Companies such as Mercedes-Benz and Audi are at a better starting position, as their customers are well-off, and often willing to pay more for the technology in their vehicles. Semi-autonomous cars are expected to be much cheaper, with the likes of Honda developing cars with the technology for around $20,000.
With affordability a concern relating to driverless cars, there may be more finance options than ever before. As a result of General Motor’s investment into Lyft, it’s clear that ride-sharing will be a huge part of the market, and some industry experts are predicting that you may be able to rent a car on an ad-hoc basis, rather than owning your own. Finance dealers and leasing companies will also have to adapt to the market, with many of them worried about the issue of accidents occurring that could potentially write the car (and their asset) off. Leasing a driverless car may only be possible if elements of the driving are still controlled by a human, which means that for now, at least, you could find it difficult to purchase a fully autonomous car on finance.
Where We Are Today
As previously mentioned, a lot of vehicle brands are testing driverless technology, but we’re already seeing elements of it crop up in the cars that we are purchasing today. New cars can have cameras fitted to help with emergency braking, they can detect if you stray from your lane and correct the mistake for you, and certain models even have low-speed driving assistance which can control speed, braking and steering for you – but only if you keep your hands on the wheel at all times. At the moment, safety is still the primary concern, so any elements of driverless technology can always be overridden by a human. In 2018, hands-off driving, where you can take your hands off the wheel for up to three minutes on a highway will come into action, but you’ll be reminded to put your hands back on the wheel, and if you don’t, the car will stop – again, safety is the primary concern.
It’s clear that fully autonomous cars are closer to becoming accessible to the general public, but the law and the car finance industry still have a lot of catching up to do before we will see them on our roads. Although the vehicles might be on sale by 2021, it will be a while before you can sit in a car, reading your newspaper on your daily commute and not pay any attention to the road.