Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) organises the Future of Mobility Summit series, gathering perspectives from industry, finance, and policy leaders in the transport community. This year’s event started last week in East Palo Alto and focused on electrified transport, shared mobility, and autonomous vehicles. It hosted numerous speakers, sponsors, and delegates, involved in shaping policy, business strategy and investment across advanced transport and intelligent mobility. An informal poll conducted among 300 automotive, energy and technology executives concluded that fully autonomous vehicles might not be hitting the roads soon, despite the current electrification hype and global auto makers’ race to roll out electric cars.

Delayed expectations for commercial deployment

Mobility executives were asked to state the year in which they thought Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles would be available for purchase in the U.S. Approximately 75% of the respondents thought this would occur before 2030, while 40% believed that it will happen after 2030.

The consensus among automotive companies is that Level 4 vehicles will begin deploying for commercial use in 2020, while Level 5 will likely follow 5 years later. However, both executive respondents and mobility experts agreed that commercial deployment of fully autonomous vehicles will occur later than assumed by auto media and auto makers.

Analysts and company representatives were satisfied and glad with the results of the poll. The BNEF poll revealed a more realistic picture of the future of autonomous driving, with better understanding of autonomous concepts and safety legislation.

On-going autonomous development

In addition to the informal poll revealing experts’ expectations, BNEF also released an intelligent mobility update. It claimed that as of February, 21 states have already passed autonomous vehicles (AV) legislation, 19 of which enable AV testing on public roads. Within the latter, there are approximately 60 cities currently testing AVs.

BNEF also uncovered vast requirements for additional work to bring fully autonomous vehicles to life, beyond showrooms. Major requirements for a successful launch of the industry include establishing safety rules and convincing customers that these cars are indeed safe. Companies need to create strong brands, which will make people feel secure and trustworthy. Trust is a key component, dependent on clear understanding of the different five levels of autonomy.

For example, Level 3 driving requires driver engagement and control of the vehicle at all times. If an accident occurs at this level of autonomy, differentiation among the car’s and driver’s responsibilities will be of paramount importance, in order to avoid risks of negative reputational problems.

Even if the technology works perfectly, human drivers could still cause human errors due to inappropriate understanding of the technology. Therefore, car makers and technology companies in charge of autonomy, will need to educate customers and manage public expectations.

Niche autonomous delivery and industrial trucking

BNEF participants also agreed that niche autonomous segments might initially lead the entire industry, as commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles could occur 10-50 years later. Meanwhile, autonomous deliveries, transferring good, shuttle services and ride-sharing could drive the market. Long haul industrial trucking could see commercial use in the next 2-3 years.

There have already been companies launching revolutionary delivery vehicles, such as Toyota’s e-Palette and Nuro’s R1 prototype. The e-commerce giant, Amazon, has also filed a patent for an autonomous ground vehicle, after considering self-driving robots for delivery projects.

Several car makers like Tesla, Volvo, Daimler and Volkswagen have also launched autonomous trucks, in an attempt to electrify the freight industry. Lastly, large oil and mining companies, such as Australia’s Rio Tinto and Canada’s Suncor Energy have also moved to autonomous trucks, planning to scale industrial autonomous trucking capabilities.

Snezana Sokolovska

Snezana has extensive international background and business media experience. She is covering e-mobility, autonomous vehicles and smart technology at Electric Think.

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