MADISON, Wis. — How many "autonomous cars" do you think you'll see on the road worldwide in, say, 2030?
Now, before getting caught up in the razzle-dazzle of Google self-driving cars, let's do the numbers we're fairly sure of.
It turns out that opinions and forecasts among industry experts wildly vary -- ranging from an estimate of 20-30 million to 95 million autonomous cars around 2030 to 2035. This, however, depends on how autonomous people mean when they say "autonomous cars" and what sort of legal and commercial roadblocks they anticipate before the market reaches the nirvana of the self-driving car.
On one end of the spectrum, Navigant Research of Boulder, Colo., offers perhaps the most optimistic prediction for self-driving cars. In a report called "Autonomous Vehicles," just released on Wednesday, Aug. 21, the market research firm pegged sales of autonomous vehicles to grow from fewer than 8,000 annually in 2020 to 95.4 million in 2035.
Translated in a percentage of worldwide car sales, autonomous cars are expected to go up sharply from 0.01 per cent in 2020 to 75 per cent in 2035, David Alexander, senior research analyst with Navigant Research, told EE Times.
In the predictions given above, Navigant Research defines "autonomous" as synonymous with the Google driverless car -- a vehicle that could essentially function as one's chauffeur.
"I'm not talking about cars with some autonomous features built in, which could drive autonomously under limited circumstances," said Alexander. For example, the analyst is not putting cars like the upcoming 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class with freeway cruising features in the autonomous category, although some media outlets, such as CNN Money, called the Mercedes S-Class the "closest thing yet to a self-driving car."
Boston-based Strategy Analytics, meanwhile, points out the big difference between a car with multiple advanced safety technologies and a truly autonomous vehicle.
The market research firm expects autonomous cars that "are highly automated" (but not exactly self-driving) to have a market share of around 15 to 20 percent globally in 2025-2030. That translates into 20 million to 30 million autonomous cars.
Ian Riches, director of Strategy Analytics' global automotive practice, defined those autonomous cars to be capable of "offering significant support to drivers in multiple different driving situations." But he told us the number of cars that are truly autonomous -- "that is, you can sit in your drive and program it to take you directly to the movie theatre, airport, or vacation destination" -- will be in the low single-figure percentages.
Riches observed that fully autonomous cars "will likely only really emerge from 2025 onwards, and even then perhaps only initially offer full autonomous driving in certain situations, such as highway driving, or in areas with a certain degree of V2X support."