The notion of driverless cars has been an ambition for both manufacturers and drivers for a number of years, with the steady advancements being made in vehicle automation paving the way towards that goal.
Many of today’s modern vehicles have some level of automation, of which there are six levels:
- Level 0 – there are no autonomous features
- Level 1 – cars can handle one task at a time, like automatic braking
- Level 2 – these cars have least two automated functions; Tesla autopilot falls in this category
- Level 3 – cars can handle ‘dynamic driving tasks’, like accelerating past a slow moving vehicle - but might still need human intervention
- Level 4 – these vehicles are officially driverless in certain environments, where regulation allows, e.g. driverless cabs and shuttles
- Level 5 – vehicle can operate entirely on their own without a driver present
The global autonomous car market was expected to shrink by around 3% in 2020 because of the economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The market is forecast to recover in 2021 and start growing again, reaching over £26bn in 2023.
In the UK it is expected that 73% of all cars will have some level of autonomy (Levels 1-3) before fully autonomous vehicles begin to enter the market in 2025.
A key reason for this is the lack of consistent 5G or high-speed internet to allow self-driving cars to communicate with each other and to gather information about driving conditions and traffic jams or potential obstacles blocking the road. Some vehicles also, currently, require extremely detailed maps to navigate safely.
Leaving technological hurdles to one side, before fully autonomous vehicles are widely adopted, securing public support will be vital - people need to feel safe about riding in an autonomous vehicle before they’ll use them.
While 40% of people polled would be willing to use fully autonomous or semi-autonomous cars, more than half are worried about their safety, and over 30% aren’t convinced the technologies are currently advanced enough.
Number of autonomous cars globally to 2024
The number of autonomous cars with at least Level 1 autonomy (driver assistance) is projected to grow between 2019 and 2024. While there was an estimated total of around 31.4 million autonomous cars globally in 2019, this number should increase to some 54.2 million in 2024.
Global annual sales of autonomous vehicles to 2030
Sales of autonomous vehicles are expected to grow strongly in the years to 2030. It is estimated that in 2019, some 1.4 million vehicles with at least Level 3 autonomy were sold worldwide. In 2030, the global sales of these vehicles are projected to reach about 58 million units sold annually.
Around 18.43 million new cars sold in 2024 will have level 2 automation, which allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel. Close to one million new cars sold in 2024 will have higher automation levels.
It is forecast that in 2025, over 60% of all vehicles sold globally will have Level 2 autonomy or higher. Almost every second vehicle sold worldwide will be a Level 2 autonomous vehicle, while level 3 vehicles will account for 4% of total vehicle sales.
In 2030, roughly the same share of new vehicles sold worldwide will have Level 2 autonomy or higher as in 2025. It is projected, however, that in 2030 vehicles with more advanced autonomous-driving features will start penetrating the market.
Almost half of respondents were comfortable with riding in autonomous trains according to a 2020 survey. Consumers were also relatively comfortable with using autonomous cars, while only around 16% of respondents would use an autonomous boat.
In 2020, around 30% of drivers were ready to ride in an autonomous car while an additional 25% of respondents were ready to ride in an autonomous car within five years. Approximately 20% of customers stated they would never ride in such a car.
In 2021, customers worldwide had similar attitudes towards autonomous cars regardless of their level of automation. Some 47% of respondents were willing to use a semi-autonomous car, while around 44% of respondents expressed willingness to use a fully autonomous car. Conversely, 31% of customers stated they did not want to use a semi-autonomous car, while 34% said they were not willing to ride in a fully autonomous car.
In 2021, the main concern for customers worldwide regarding autonomous cars was safety. Around 61% are worried about potential safety issues due to machine error and 51% were concerned with safety issues due to human error.