Autonomous cars could forever change auto industry image

Cars that are driven by their computers will have massive social and industrial ramifications, and they could really be ubiquitous by 2025.

The avoidance of accidents will cut insurance costs. Fuel savings will be huge from more efficient high-speed, long-distance cruising in “car-trains.” Congestion avoidance will speed traffic and save fuel too. Older people won’t lose their freedom of mobility when they physically can’t drive any more. Inexperienced young people won’t be barred from driving because of crippling initial insurance costs.

“By 2025, driverless cars will be in widespread operation, which could revolutionize individual mobility,” HSBC said in a recent report.“This will enable people to drive until an old age, fuel efficiency will increase, and accidents will be reduced to close to zero,” the bank said.

There will be losers too. Obviously taxi companies will find business disappearing. Railroads, bus companies and short-haul airlines will suffer. If you can move from your home to your destination, door-to-door in the comfort of your car, who’s going to take the train, bus or plane?

Hotels might be in for a shock too. If you can travel overnight to your business meeting in the morning by sleeping in the back of your self-driving Winnebago, showering and breakfasting on the way, who’d want to do it the traditional way?

Big winners will include software sellers with in-car applications to entertain drivers with new time on their hands. Radio and recorded music businesses will lose a captive audience. Highway speed limits are likely to be raised when the new technology demonstrates it can eliminate accidents, cutting journey times and adding to the virtuous circle.

“This is not a toy. The social and economic implications are enormous. Beyond the practical benefits, we estimate autonomous cars can contribute $1.3 trillion in annual savings to the U.S. economy alone, with global savings estimated at over $5.6 trillion,” Morgan Stanley said.

And when it becomes obvious that car computerization works, it won’t be long before people start to look at all those vehicles sitting motionless in parking lots all day doing nothing. Why not use computer power to use them a bit more often by dialing up the nearest available car for your limited journey?

“Non-auto industries with high stakes in this market include telecom services, software, media, freight transportation, semiconductors and insurance,” Morgan Stanley added.

Consultants Frost & Sullivan (F&S) said most major car manufacturers are pursuing autonomous cars with Mercedes in the lead, followed by other Germans like BMW and Volkswagen. Toyota’s Lexus is at the forefront too, but Ford is also up there and closing fast. F&S says Google is a leader too, although as a technology provider not a carmaker.

Morgan Stanley said VW’s Audi, Mercedes, BMW and Nissan are leading vehicle manufacturers for self-driving, while suppliers like Delphi, Continental, Autoliv and TRW are spending heavily. Technology companies IBM and Cisco are in the field too as well as Google.