SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (AP) — While the dream of a world filled with self-driving vehicles (AV) and on-demand mobility services remains alive, a new forecast from S&P Global Mobility suggests that widespread adoption of autonomous technology is still a distant reality for the next decade.
The report, based on rigorous model-level forecasting, indicates that the lofty expectations surrounding AVs have yet to materialize and continue to face significant challenges.
For the next 10 years, the application of autonomous technology is expected to be limited to two specific areas: geofenced robotaxis operated by fleets in predefined zones and hands-off systems with safety mechanisms in personal vehicles that will still necessitate driver involvement.
Jeremy Carlson, Associate Director for the autonomy practice at S&P Global Mobility, stated, “Level 5 Autonomy, which refers to a vehicle that can mimic human driving abilities in any environment, is unlikely to be available to the public before 2035 and perhaps even later.”
However, the report presents a more optimistic outlook for targeted implementations of autonomous technology, particularly in Level 2+ and Level 3 systems, and to some extent, Level 4. These implementations are expected to happen sooner than full Level 5 autonomy.
This sobering assessment from S&P Global Mobility marks a stark contrast to the exuberance of just five years ago when the world was enamored with the promise of fully autonomous vehicles at Levels 4 and 5. The report underscores the industry’s slower-than-anticipated progress and sets a more realistic tone. It also introduces new data on the intersection of autonomy and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS).
The focus in the industry is shifting towards automated driving rather than full autonomy. The report projects that by 2035, at least 31% of new vehicle sales globally will feature Level 2+ and Level 3 systems, allowing drivers to be hands-off in specific scenarios while still supervising the vehicle’s operation.
Carlson emphasized the significant potential in Level 2+ and Level 3 automated driving systems. He stated, “These systems are benefitting from the standardization of safety features, which form the foundation of in-vehicle architecture, sensing, and computing. They complement human drivers rather than replacing them, making consumer adoption less challenging. The next few years will see wider deployment, benefiting automakers and suppliers.”
The report also highlights the slow development of Level 4 autonomous technology in personal vehicles, with fewer than 6% of light vehicles sold in 2035 expected to have Level 4 functionality. Many technology providers are instead focusing on autonomous vehicle fleets for mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) applications.
While there have been successful pilot programs in cities like San Francisco, Phoenix, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, autonomous vehicles still struggle with complex traffic situations, leading to caution from regulators and consumers.
Despite the cautious outlook, MaaS and robotaxis are anticipated to lead the transition to an autonomous vehicle future, albeit with gradual growth. The report predicts that MaaS-equipped vehicles and robotaxi applications will represent fewer than 800,000 vehicles sold globally in 2035. Robotaxis will operate in carefully geofenced areas, initially tested extensively in specific regions. Their high utilization rates are expected to provide new mobility options and revenue streams.
Owen Chen, Senior Principal Analyst at S&P Global Mobility, outlines a three-stage process for robotaxi development and commercialization. It includes technical feasibility demonstrations, technology optimization and integration, and expansion to new locations. He noted that 2023 sees many companies in stage one and several seeking scale in stage two, with China and the U.S. leading the way.
Regulatory approval for autonomous vehicles is progressing in various regions, with California and China actively enabling testing and deployment. China is expected to contribute the most significant volumes in the long term, followed by the U.S. and Europe.
However, challenges remain for Level 4 MaaS deployment, including regulatory fragmentation, low public trust, and the high cost and time required for technology development. In contrast, Level 2+ and Level 3 features face fewer risks and uncertainties, leading to a more optimistic short-term outlook.
Despite the hurdles, automakers, suppliers, technology companies, and mobility providers remain committed to realizing a future of safe and equitable autonomous mobility, even if it takes more time than initially anticipated.
“There’s plenty of opportunity and growth ahead,” Carlson concluded. “Significant volumes are likely to come before 2030, but a future of ubiquitous shared mobility remains an industry aspiration.”