Autonomous vehicles could cut traffic accidents by as much as 90% and save up to $190 billion in medical and law enforcement costs a year in the U.S. by 2050.
That’s the view of Detroit business-management consultancy McKinsey in a report that says autonomous driving also could increase the carrying capacity of roads because vehicles would be able to travel closer together and at higher speeds.
Ultimately, driverless vehicles – defined as 100% autonomous without an actual driver to override the system – would prevent, each decade, almost 300,000 fatalities in the U.S. and 10 million lives globally.
But the report says without significant deployment and penetration of electric vehicles, car sharing and supportive regulations, the advent of driverless vehicles will not, by itself, be enough to solve urban air pollution and congestion problems.
McKinsey also says the convenience of driverless cars might increase vehicle miles traveled.
“Commuters who take the train so that they can read or catch up on e-mails would be able to do so even more conveniently and comfortably in their own cars,” the report claims. “Can’t find a parking space? Ask the car to circle the block while you eat dinner.”
Autonomous vehicles may become feasible, in both technical and regulatory terms, sooner than commonly believed.
“Our analysis shows that the cost of the components required for fully autonomous driving are both lower than many people believe and declining rapidly,” McKinsey says.
“By mid-century, the penetration of AVs and other ADAs (advanced driver-assistance systems) could ultimately cause vehicle crashes in the U.S. to fall from second to ninth place in terms of their lethality ranking among accident types,” the report says.
Innovation in connectivity, autonomy, lightweight materials, EVs and AVs will continue to accelerate, and the attitudes of citizens and cities around the world are evolving.
“Put it all together, and we can’t help but be excited about the bright future ahead for urban mobility,” the report says.
Applying Technology to Global Demand
But it says something needs to be done because by 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, up from about 50% now, and more than 2 billion people are likely to enter the middle class, most of them living in cities in emerging markets, particularly China.
“Many people entering the global middle class will want to buy cars,” McKinsey says. “Automobile sales are expected to increase from about 70 million a year in 2010 to 125 million by 2025, with more than half forecasted to be bought in cities.
“Some automotive analysts have gone as far as predicting that on the existing trajectory, today’s 1.2 billion-strong global car fleet could double by 2030.”
McKinsey says the existing urban infrastructure cannot support such an increase in vehicles on the road and solving the mobility challenge will require bold, coordinated actions by the private and public sectors.
“Technological advances and commercialization, funding, intelligent policies and business-model innovation will be needed to realize productivity improvements while creating more sustainable environments in our cities,” it says.
The report says four major technological trends – in-vehicle connectivity, electrification, car sharing and autonomous driving – are converging, and mobile-productivity solutions could be substantially improved if cities can figure out how to make these elements work together.
“Urban-policy decisions made today will determine how mobility and car usage evolve in the next 10 to 20 years,” the report says. “The biggest hurdle for AVs to be adopted at scale may not be technological, but rather in the definition and harmonization of regulations at a city, state, national and even international level.”
McKinsey says collaboration is essential in the new-mobility economy, and manufacturers will need to work with insurance firms to develop new products for autonomous vehicles.
Regulators may find they need to consider how to use new technologies to broaden consumer choice and improve urban environments, especially reducing congestion and pollution.
“That may require rethinking rules written for a different era and redeploying city spending that has historically tended to favor more roads and highways – a difficult task, but one that will be crucial in how fast mobility innovations get traction,” the report concludes.
“One thing is certain: given rising incomes and aspirations, there will be more demand for mobility. That will stress the world’s infrastructure, as well as its nerves.”