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Gearing up for self-driving cars

Gearing up for self-driving cars

24-10-2016 | Insight

Road mobility is evolving at great speed. Although technical capabilities increase by the day, we do not expect a complete autonomously driving fleet during the coming two decades.

  • Jeroen van Oerle
    Jeroen
    van Oerle
    Trend analyst Robeco
  • Marco van Lent
    Marco
    van Lent
    Senior Portfolio Manager Equities

Speed read

  • We do not expect a fully autonomously driven car fleet before 2035
  • Advanced driver assistance systems will lead the way
  • Car sharing and mobility as a service will increase in importance

We believe that advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as cruise control and parking garage pilots, are leading the way. We expect the number of ADAS applications to grow, not only in the premium segment, but also in the low-end light vehicle market, as ADAS hardware will more and more become a commodity.

Although ADAS and autonomous driving do not require electrification of a car’s drivetrain, we expect cheaper batteries to lead to an increase in electric vehicles. However, this is not likely to be the case in the heavy-duty vehicle market, because of the long distances traveled and the limited range of electric vehicles.

Connectivity is another important trend. According to analysis done by Macquarie , 75% of vehicles will be connected by 2020. The EU requires eCall (emergency call) by 2017 for all new cars. Connectivity includes vehicle-to-vehicle communication and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, but also infotainment and over-the-air software updates. This requires substantial infrastructure investments though.

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Sociodemographics make or break adoption

Sociodemographic trends will lead to faster growth of new vehicle sales in emerging markets. In many emerging countries, GDP per capita is high enough to increase demand for cars. A lack of legacy infrastructure could lead emerging markets to leapfrog developed markets in many technological mobility trends.

However, a paradigm shift is required. Humans trust humans, but not necessarily a machine to perform something as complex as driving. We do not personally know the taxi-, train- or bus driver, yet we use their services daily without thinking about it. This level of trust is not yet present for machines and we believe it will take some time to develop.  

Car sharing is another social phenomenon we expect to increase in importance. Still, many people don’t want to share their car or ride with others, irrespective of the economics. Another problem with sharing is peak usage. The fact that we all have to drop off our kids at school around 8AM, be at work around 9AM and leave work again around 5PM is not going to change because of autonomous driving. As long as our activities are clustered the way they currently are, the full benefits of autonomous driving will not be reached.

Despite these drawbacks, we expect car sharing to grow, especially in densely populated urban areas. Developed world consumers currently own 2.1 cars per household. We expect this to decline towards 1.5 cars over the coming decades.

Governments’ income model challenged

Governments and regulatory bodies are an important factor. In some cases we see regulation as catalyst (electric vehicle adoption and mandatory ADAS), while in other cases it holds back technology (autonomous driving and infrastructure spending). Income models for governments need to be reconsidered as traffic fines, parking tickets and fuel taxes are likely to diminish. Regulators have thought about mobility questions, but too often inefficient legacy infrastructure is an impediment. New laws are required and international cooperation is needed to develop standards. We expect this will take time.

Winners and losers

Sustaining innovation and complete disruption are both plausible scenarios. Pinpointing clear winners and losers is therefore not that straightforward.

Producing 100 million vehicles per year requires a certain level of production efficiency that is not easily replicated by challengers. But if we move away from mass production towards full customization, scale becomes less important. A scenario where car manufacturers become fleet managers, offering mobility as a service instead of cars as a product, is possible. Not all car manufactures will be able to make that shift. Thanks to the strong lobby position of the car industry in the developed world, we expect change will progress slowly.

No matter who eventually will provide mobility as a service, the required technology to do so is owned by specialty companies. However, most of these specialty companies focus on one specific technology or software layer. The problem is that we do not yet know what technology will eventually become the standard. We prefer companies with a wide range of ADAS applications.

Next to ADAS, chip manufacturers are also gaining in either scenario. ADAS and autonomous driving require a lot of data processing. Vehicle electrification, infotainment and connectivity also lead to higher demand for automotive semiconductors.

Although autonomous driving does not require electrification of the drivetrain, we see all disrupters combining autonomous driving with electric motors. The reason is simple; they aren’t car manufacturers and they have no idea how to optimize internal combustion engine technology. That is not an issue though, because the electric alternative is available. This lowers the barriers to entry substantially

Challenged business models are diverse

There is a range of challenged businesses once autonomous driving becomes reality. First of all, the added ADAS is going to impact repair shops. With accident rates coming down and drivetrains becoming electrical, demand for repair work will decline. The same goes for manufacturers of passive safety features like bumpers and mirrors.

Also car insurers will be negatively impacted. Premiums are coming down and alternative providers of insurance appear. Car manufacturers and technology companies are looking into offering insurance to clients directly instead of through a traditional insurer. We think parking garages will also be negatively impacted. Especially in big cities, parking can be expensive and it can be more beneficial to send the car back home, or to share it.

More generally challenged are car manufacturers that are not investing in ADAS or autonomous cars, such as French manufacturers. Last, but not least, professional driving services are challenged. In the US alone, there are over 3.5 million professional drivers. In the autonomous era these services are no longer required.

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