Despite the hype, industry is getting more cautious about self-driving cars

Over the last 18 months most executives have learned more about the introduction of self driving cars (SDC) and the barriers and enablers – and most (59.4%) have changed their opinion about the likely timeline for SDC introduction, according to a new survey of its audience conducted by Autelligence, the automotive business information company.

Our survey in September 2017 had 219 respondents, compared with 169 for a similar survey in February 2016.

Key take-away –  despite the attention that SDCs are getting, not all executives are becoming more optimistic.

35.4% say that SDCs will come to market sooner than they thought a year and a half ago –  but 24.1% think that they will arrive later.

The median choice for a date for introduction of was 2025-2026 (25.4% of respondents) – the same as in the earlier survey.

Intriguingly a comparison of the details of the two surveys suggests the industry has become more cautious than it thinks.

In September 2017 58.4% of respondents thought that the date of introduction of level 4 or 5 vehicles will be 2025 or later – compared with 45.6% or respondents saying the same in February 2016.

Diving deeper, executives still see the same problems as relatively easy – sensor technology, mapping, car-to-car (C2C) comms, data management and car-to-infrastructure (C2X) communications – but as a group they don’t see them as quite as easy as they envisaged 18 months ago.

Conversely, the legal and institutional issues that they saw as among the biggest problems 18 months ago – figuring out liability, agreeing standards – are still be biggest problems – but not by as much.

Biggest issues for self-driving cars

Difficulty score (1=low, 5= high) Percentage change in difficulty score
Sensor technology



Mapping and keeping maps current



Car-to-car (C2C) communication



Managing data



Car-to-infrastructure (C2X) communication



Insurance issues



Cost to the consumer



Consumer acceptance



Agreeing standards



Ethical decision algorithms



Data or communication security



Figuring out legal liability



Getting appropriate laws passed




The two trends may be linked –  “due to Government decision-making process (in US & EU), technology introduction (like V2X) is getting delayed” said one respondent. “Moreover there is a need to have robust solutions that require rigorous verification & validation.”

Overall the assessment has shifted only slightly. “The technology is there, but the legislative will is not” said one respondent, speaking for the views of many respondents.

“It’s two steps forward, two steps backward” wrote another. The “real world is a lot harder to deal with than the virtual.”

The “details are more complex than anticipated” said another.

“There is a political support which didn’t exist 18 months ago” noted another. “Nevertheless it will remain mostly level 2 to 3 within the coming 5 years.”

“The hurdles to install the needed infrastructure are huge” reflected another widespread concern.

Opinion was evenly divided on whether the large established OEMs would be big winners or big losers from a shift to SDCs (8.5% of respondents choosing each option) – but on balance more respondents (35%) thought that they would face “some difficulties” than thought that they would make “some gains” (30.7%).

But that even-handedness was in contrast to the way that other industry participants and would-be industry participants were viewed – most (61.8%) respondents saw electronics suppliers (like Intel) as likely big winners, followed by big integrated component makers (like Bosch), new entrant car makers (like Tesla), internet companies (like Google/Waymo) and ride share companies (like Uber/Lyft), all of which were considered to be FIVE times as likely to be big winners from the SDCs as established OEMs.  New entrant suppliers and consumer electronics companies (like Apple) were considered to be FOUR times as likely as OEMs to be big winners.

Respondents seem to have become more convinced that new players will be the big winners in the SDC world. Ride share companies (like Uber) and new entrant car makers (like Tesla) were thought more likely to be winners than eighteen months ago, while confidence in the success of established OEMs had fallen.

Among the big auto companies the three big German groups – Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen – were seen to be “best placed to succeed with autonomous vehicles” – followed by Toyota, General Motors, Honda and Ford in that order.  Geely was the highest placed Chinese group (and eighth overall).  Suzuki was the least well placed of the major global groups, our respondents said.

Our question listed only the world’s 18 largest OEMs, and we weren’t clear in the question that we had selected the groups by size.  “Other” manufacturers were highly regarded.  Tesla was a big write-in.  Volvo was also mentioned by some respondents, although others had included it under Geely.

Japan, the USA and Germany were the nations perceived to be best handling the challenges of SDCs – with India and Italy scoring worst among major automotive nations.

Respondents saw autonomous cars as having a big impact on their own business.

Note: The survey had 233 respondents (169 in February 2016). It was conducted between 25 September and 23 October. 30.8% of the respondents were based in the United States, and 19.7% in Germany. China, Japan and South Korea were under-represented in the survey.

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