Are self-driving cars finally set to become the breakout stars of the highway?

Uber's first self-driving fleet of cars arrives in Pittsburgh in August, 2016.
Uber’s first self-driving fleet of cars arrives in Pittsburgh in August, 2016.

It looks as if self-driving cars are poised to make the leap from “stuff of science fiction” to “regular sight on the roads” within the coming half-decade.

In the past few weeks, CEO Mark Fields and other senior leadership people at Ford Motor Company have stated as much. They’re giving their predictions on what’s going to happen with self-driving cars, along with explaining what their own company has been doing to move the ball forward.

Here are some key takeaways from the Ford pronouncements:

  • Rather than being a novelty, self-driving cars will start being a regular sight on the highways by 2021.
  • Most of the first self-driving automobiles will be conventional cars or hybrids, rather than full electric vehicles.
  • The first self-driving cars on the road will be heavily geared towards ride-sharing fleets and package-delivery services, rather than vehicles sold to the general consumer market.
  • Self-driving technology will be too expensive for individual ownership – at least until 2025 or beyond.

Several additional predictions from other industry observers are also worth noting:

  • Johana Bhuiyan of Vox Media’s Recode predicts that the price of ride-hailing services like Lyft or Uber will decline because of lower human resources requirements (drivers), thanks to self-driving vehicles.
  • Brian Johnson, an analyst at Barclays, believes that once self-driving vehicles are in widespread use, auto sales will decline precipitously (as in nearly 40%), as more people come to rely on ride-hailing services that are priced significantly more affordably than taxi or ride-hailing services have been up to now.

If these predictions are accurate, it means that the biggest advancement in consumer transportation since the inception of the automobile itself is right on our doorstep.

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