The Mercury - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Roy Cokayne

THE EARLY stages of a tran­si­tion to au­tonomous ve­hi­cles (AVs) is un­der way. S&P Global Rat­ings ad­mit­ted as much in a re­port re­leased yes­ter­day ti­tled The Road Ahead for Au­tonomous Ve­hi­cles, where it re­ferred to the com­mer­cial roll­out of “hands-free” fea­tures on some pre­mium ve­hi­cles this year.

How­ever, S&P be­lieves the mass adop­tion of driver­less AVs is still decades away.

It re­ferred to the pedes­trian fa­tal­ity in March this year by an Uber au­tonomous test ve­hi­cle, adding it high­lighted both the sig­nif­i­cant tech­ni­cal chal­lenges and lim­i­ta­tions with this trans­for­ma­tive tech­nol­ogy, and the many prac­ti­cal, tech­ni­cal and moral ques­tions that needed to be re­solved prior to its mass adop­tion.

S&P said full-scale test­ing of self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles with­out hu­man con­trol was un­der way in cities glob­ally by a num­ber of com­pa­nies.

BMW Group con­firmed this week that it had be­come the first in­ter­na­tional car­maker to ob­tain the au­tonomous driv­ing road test li­cence in China, mark­ing a big step on its path to au­tonomous driv­ing.

It of­fi­cially ob­tained the Shang­hai in­tel­li­gent con­nected au­tonomous driv­ing test li­cence, is­sued by the in­tel­li­gent con­nected ve­hi­cle road test pro­mo­tion team, con­sist­ing of Shang­hai’s mu­nic­i­pal com­mis­sion of econ­omy and in­for­ma­ti­sa­tion, Shang­hai’s mu­nic­i­pal public se­cu­rity bureau and Shang­hai’s mu­nic­i­pal trans­porta­tion com­mis­sion.

BMW said this achieve­ment un­der­lined its lead­ing role in the de­vel­op­ment of au­tonomous driv­ing in the Chi­nese au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try.

The test sites in Shang­hai cur­rently cover a to­tal dis­tance of about 5.6km, but this was planned to grow quickly over time.

BMW Group said the test fleet was based on the lat­est BMW 7 Se­ries mod­els, start­ing with two op­er­at­ing ve­hi­cles this month and adding up to seven ve­hi­cles by De­cem­ber in China.

S&P be­lieves fully au­tonomous ve­hi­cle pen­e­tra­tion would be in­flu­enced by and sig­nif­i­cantly lag of elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

It ex­pects the mar­ket growth of elec­tric ve­hi­cles could ap­proach a 10 per­cent share of US light ve­hi­cle sales by 2025 com­pared to 1.1 per­cent at present, which was be­hind its fore­cast of a 25 per­cent share in Europe and 20 per­cent share in China.

S&P has a low and high dis­rup­tion sce­nario for the adop­tion of AVs.

Its low dis­rup­tion sce­nario only foresees ad­vanced AVs with a 2 per­cent share of light ve­hi­cle sales by 2030, ris­ing to 10 per­cent by 2040.

How­ever, S&P said that should “the rev­o­lu­tion” fol­low their high dis­rup­tion sce­nario where AVs com­prise a 30 per­cent share of light ve­hi­cle sales by 2030 and 50 per­cent by 2050, “the ef­fects on so­ci­ety will be pro­found and far-reach­ing”.

“Semi-au­to­mated to fully au­tonomous all elec­tric ve­hi­cles share the road – aug­mented by ride-shar­ing tech­nolo­gies and TNCs (trans­port net­work com­pa­nies) – are likely to al­ter how cities are de­signed, grow and func­tion, af­fect­ing where we live and work.

“AVs will in­tro­duce life-sav­ing and ul­ti­mately labour-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies, while fun­da­men­tally al­ter­ing the move­ment of peo­ple and goods, dis­rupt­ing busi­ness mod­els along the way,” it said.

But S&P stressed that the tra­jec­tory of AV growth was com­plex and un­pre­dictable, be­cause it faced hur­dles be­yond tech­nol­ogy and cost.

It be­lieved the growth of AVs would lag that of elec­tric ve­hi­cles, based on the in­her­ent ad­van­tages of elec­tric ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing lower main­te­nance cost, be­cause of fewer mov­ing parts, zero emis­sions and lower op­er­at­ing costs per kilo­me­tre.

While elec­tric ve­hi­cle growth was pri­mar­ily de­ter­mined by bat­tery cost de­vel­op­ments and sup­port­ing in­fra­struc­ture, S&P said AV growth faced many hur­dles be­yond tech­nol­ogy and cost.

These in­cluded le­gal and reg­u­la­tory de­vel­op­ments, con­sumer ac­cep­tance and hu­man be­hav­iour, public opin­ion on safety and li­a­bil­i­ties, and tax­a­tion and in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing.

S&P said the ini­tial growth phase of AVs was likely to lead to more con­ges­tion, be­cause con­ven­tional cars would have to in­ter­act with AVs, which would also likely be reg­u­lated in a con­ser­va­tive man­ner.

“This new dy­namic could in­crease the num­ber of ve­hi­cles miles trav­elled

BMW Group con­firmed this week that it had be­come the first in­ter­na­tional car­maker to ob­tain the au­tonomous driv­ing road test li­cence in China, mark­ing a big step on its path to au­tonomous driv­ing. This is its Vi­sion Next 100 con­cept car.

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