This article originally appeared in the “Wheels Mobility Guide,” a feature of the April 2019 edition of Automotive Fleet magazine.
There is a lot of buzz around how autonomous vehicles will transform society in the future. But in order to develop a strategic plan for this future, we need to project the timeline for availability and adoption of autonomous vehicles, and assess its implications for the evolution of mobility options for corporate fleets.
The clearest part of this picture is obviously initial availability. Multiple players are experimenting with autonomous vehicles today, and we already have autonomous vehicles in certain applications (e.g. fixed-route shuttles) operating on public roads in 2019. But we should not expect the technology to be transformative in terms of application or economics immediately. Autonomous vehicles will initially be applied to the autonomous shuttle and ride-hailing space – in small numbers and in select geographies with favorable traffic and weather dynamics.
While ride-hailing services have a strong economic incentive to go autonomous (with over 50% of the cost of ride-hailing being accounted for by the driver), the early-stage economics are likely to be roughly comparable to existing ride-hailing services, partly based on the initially high cost of autonomous systems, and partly based on the fact that many of these vehicles are likely to include a safety driver. This means that at least initially, roughly between 2019 and 2022, autonomous ride-hailing will essentially be a proving ground for technology maturity and public acceptance, with limited impact on most corporate fleets.
The second stage of adoption will depend on the increasing maturity of autonomous technology and its resulting applicability to more diverse road conditions, as well as the safety track record of these vehicles. The adoption dynamics will vary around the world, with some countries taking a more aggressive stance while others take a more conservative position in allowing and encouraging broad adoption of autonomous vehicles.