Shared electric autonomous vehicles to account for 25 percent of U.S. traffic by 2030, group predicts

The developing trends of self-driving vehicles, electrification, and ridesharing could merge and create a major shift in urban travel in the United States within the next 15 years, a consulting group is predicting.

The Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm specializing in business strategy, suggests that one-quarter of all vehicle miles traveled in the U.S. could be driven by shared autonomous electric vehicles by 2030. The group says this shift could result in a number of transportation benefits, but also create disruptions for automakers and public transportation.

Electric vehicles only accounted for about 1 percent of total U.S. vehicle sales in 2016. However, sales for these vehicles have experienced a compound annual growth rate of 32 percent since 2012, according to Forbes.

Automakers and technology companies are currently racing to develop autonomous vehicles to allow fully self-driving capability. Several companies have set a goal of having such a vehicle ready by the year 2020.

The Boston Consulting Group says developments in ridesharing, autonomy, and vehicle electrification can be complementary rather than competitive. Their analysis suggests that shared autonomous electric vehicles could reduce travel costs by 60 percent and replace more than 5 million vehicles per year, primarily in cities.

"Such an evolution in mobility is no longer a fantasy," says Brian Collie, head of the Boston Consulting Group's automotive practice in North America. "The technology exists and our research shows that many consumers will embrace it. Yet few players are taking the bold steps needed to position themselves to thrive in this not-too-distant future. The time to act is now."

The analysis included a survey of more than 6,000 U.S. consumers as well as scrutiny of the traffic patterns and population densities in more than 100 cities. It also took into consideration factors such as economic forecasts, interviews with industry experts, and past studies by the group.

The expected shift to driverless shared electric cars would start in the early 2020s and occur gradually, according to the report. Cities with populations higher than 1 million would be the first to adopt it due to higher demand and existing headaches with traffic, including congestion and the high cost of parking.

Describing it as a conservative estimate, the Boston Consulting Group estimated that 23 to 26 percent of U.S. travel—800 to 925 billion miles—could be accomplished by this type of vehicle by 2030. The analysis said the impact could be even greater if improvements in vehicle design, new services and revenue streams, and other changes make the vehicles more appealing in smaller cities as well.

One benefit of this shift would be a significant reduction in travel costs. The report determined that the typical Chicago driver who travels 10,000 miles a year would reduce their travel costs from $1.20 per mile to about 50 cents per mile by changing to using a shared autonomous electric vehicle. This would translate to more than $7,000 in savings each year.

Other benefits from increased adoption of shared autonomous electric vehicles could include reduced traffic congestion, fewer traffic accidents, less frustration in finding a parking space, and cleaner air due to reduced emissions.

However, the Boston Consulting Group also determined that widespread adoption of this type of vehicle would require people to be more accepting of the technology. Survey respondents often said they were skeptical about the vehicles or that they were wary of giving up private vehicle ownership. The study also found that the technology was less likely to be economically feasible in rural areas and smaller cities.

Although the change would have a minimal impact on the demand for vehicles, it could prove a major disruptor to the automotive industry. The report estimates that 5.1 million conventional automobiles will be replaced by 4.7 million autonomous electric vehicles in 2030. This change could result in traditional automakers facing more competition in the development of vehicles; shifts in the role of dealerships, insurers, and aftermarket businesses; a sharp reduction in the demand for fuel; and new businesses emerging for roles such as the managing and maintenance of autonomous vehicle fleets.

Shared autonomous electric vehicles could also be more competitive with public transportation, reducing the demand for these services. The analysis suggested that cities might have to offset the reduced revenue from decreased ridership by investing in publicly owned vehicle fleets or finding other methods of revenue, such as fees charged on fleets or individual trips by shared autonomous electric vehicles.

"The automotive industry is on the brink of a major transformation, and it'll be here faster than people realize," said Justin Rose, head of the Boston Consulting Group's digital efforts for industrial goods companies. "For millions of Americans living in large cities, the next vehicle they purchase may be the last car they ever own."

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