Autonomous driving and vehicle electrification won’t just change the way you drive — or don’t drive — it will also change the world in which we live. That is the conclusion of a far-reaching report from McKinsey & Company that identifies the far-reaching and widespread implications of the imminent changes in mobility for consumers all around the world. In other words, brother, can you share a paradigm?
“When we think about the next inflection point of mobility we think we’re really at the point where the change we’re going to see right now is almost as big as the change we saw when we went from horses to cars,” Inga Mauer, partner, McKinsey and Company, told forbes.com. “And I think it’s not one trend that is shaping that individually, but it’s really a couple of trends coming together.”
Those two trends are vehicle autonomy and electrification, both of which are experiencing steady progress, according to McKinsey. That pair are accompanied by the marked trend to increased connectivity and a move to vehicle- and ride-sharing. Recent McKinsey & Company studies have found that among auto manufacturers, original equipment suppliers, tech giants and startups combined, more than $325 billion has been invested in these four inter-related technologies since 2017.
Of the four technologies, Mauer sees vehicle electrification as the one that has experienced the most progress. “One of the three driving forces is the increased penetration of electric cars,” she said. “Even today 10 to 30 percent of U.S. population has a preference to drive an electric vehicle, and so that brings us to cleaner cars.”
Connectivity and, specifically, connected cars are inter-related technologies enjoying increased penetration and significant consumer enthusiasm.
“We believe that by 2030 45 percent of the vehicles on the road will be connected,” Mauer said. “So allowing things like a virtual chauffeur to maybe drive the car for you instead of yourself.”
Of the technologies studied, autonomous driving appears to offer the biggest payoff. In fact, the McKinsey report projects that global revenues from autonomous in urban areas could reach $1.6 trillion a year in 2030, more than two times the combined 2017 revenues of Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen.
According to the recent McKinsey report, Level 3 autonomy in which drivers are able to rely on the car for critical safety functions will be introduced in several high-end vehicles in the next one to two years. McKinsey further predicts that in commercial trucking and delivery, Level 4 autonomy (fully autonomous operation with a human override option) could account for 60-70 percent of all miles driven in the United States before 2030.
“We believe that this [autonomous operation] is a huge opportunity because it frees up so much productivity of people who participate in transportation today,” she said. “We believe there’s an $800 billion impact annually if we can actually free up people from driving cars. We can make them more productive. We can make them engage, read things, do work while they’re commuting versus focusing on driving their cars.”
At the same time when questioned, Mauer admitted that Level 3 autonomy presents potential safety issues, because, by definition, key responsibility for vehicle safety can be transferred from the vehicle to the driver at critical moments. Shifting roles from passenger to driver in an instant during a life-or-death moment is rife with problems.
“I think it’s a very valid point,” she told me. “We know that once the driver disengages from the traffic it’s quite hard to re-engage. So even if the car gives you a warning sign for you to put the attention back on the road, grasp the situation in front of you and interact in the right way could involve some time delay. And I think that’s one of the areas that a lot of the manufacturers are working to set and drive some of the challenges with Level 3.”
A less commonly discussed obstacle to fully autonomous vehicles, especially for personal use, is the exceptionally high costs associated with the technology. Mauer suggests expense could have a telling impact.
“It might potentially go straight into a shared application where I have [access to] a shared autonomous Uber and Lyft vehicle and maybe not an individually owned car because the technology package might make it too expensive for an individual owner,” she said.
At the same time, McKinsey is bullish on autonomy for commercial vehicles.
“When we model it out and look at the economics for the fleet owner, considering labor costs, considering accidents that are caused by human error, we think there’s opportunity for 60 to 70 percent of the miles driven by trucks to be kind of converted to autonomous by 2030,” she said.
When it comes to personal vehicles with autonomous driving capabilities, the adoption timeframe becomes more clouded. At the same time, she sees Millennials as early adopters of autonomous cars, saying that Millennials have “a very different perception around vehicle ownership and the desire to own a vehicle as the big aspirational purchase in one’s life.”
This implies a future in which autonomous and non-autonomous vehicle share the world’s highways, a mix that is potentially problematic for a number of reasons.
“I would say that we will definitely have to navigate the challenge in the coming years of an ecosystem where we have both drivers and …. different stages of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles that need to interact with each other,” she said. “But what we would suspect is that similar to HOV [high-occupancy vehicle] lanes that already exist today in some states, we will at some point see dedicated lanes for autonomous vehicles that start to separate between individual drivers and autonomous units.”
It is unclear how that will unfold, but what is crystal clear is that McKinsey and Company expects the car business of the middle decades of this century to look very different than it does now. Mauer predicts unprecedented collaboration between technology companies and traditional vehicle manufacturers. From the products themselves to the companies that make them to the customers that buy them, the auto industry is in for the paradigm shift of all paradigm shifts.