Autonomous cars envisioned by the automakers or others like Google could, in the foreseeable future, counter dwindling demand from young buyers by reaching the fastest-growing demographic in the world’s largest vehicle markets: the elderly.
A horrifying statistic depicts that as many as 90% of traffic accidents are because of human error, so a huge benefit of the technology is safety augmentation, according to executives from automakers including General Motors and Toyota that were present at an industry conference in Tokyo last week.
“Seniors are often regarded as the victims of traffic accidents’’, said Moritaka Yoshida, managing officer and chief safety technology officer at Toyota. ‘‘However, recently an increasing number of accidents are caused by senior drivers.’’
Japan, which is the world’s fastest-aging major economy and the third-largest car market, is high in this trend: of the 4,411 people who died on the roads in the country last year, more than 50%, or 2,264, were aged 65 or more, show figures from the National Police Agency.
”Driver-assistance and autonomous-driving technologies will definitely help stimulate demand among the elderly by assuring them driving can be very safe,’’ said Zhou Lei, a senior manager and auto-industry consultant at Deloitte Tohmatsu Consulting Co. in Tokyo. ‘What’s happening in Japan will also occur in the U.S. and especially emerging countries like China, and the demand will be huge.’’
‘‘Autonomous driving could be very helpful to people who have physical challenges, or the elderly,” adds Mitsuhiko Yamashita, executive vice president of Nissan.
Google, the technology giant, has already been testing self-driving autos in the U.S. Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, announced it plans to out new systems in the next two years – allowing cars to car communication to avoid accidents. GM, the largest US carmaker, is also planning vehicles by 2020 that could be autonomous on restricted-access highways.