Study: 21 million autonomous cars on the road by 2035

June 9, 2016

Autonomous cars are causing problems--not on the road, where we've seen only one instance of a self-driving vehicle being blamed for a collision, but at the regulatory level. However, a new study suggests hurdles like that will soon be overcome, paving the way for 21 million self-driving vehicles to roam highways and byways by 2035.

The study comes from the analysts at IHS Automotive, who looked at recent tech developments in the field and the amount of investment being funneled into autonomous technology by companies like Google, Uber, and Amazon. If IHS' predictions are correct, the next nine years will see slow adoption of self-driving vehicles, with about 600,000 in use by 2025.

After that, though, adoption will ramp up dramatically. According to IHS's Egil Juliussen, Ph.D, "Our new forecast reflects a 43 percent compound annual growth rate between 2025 and 2035 – a decade of substantial growth, as driverless and self-driving cars alike are more widely adopted in all key global automotive markets".

IHS believes that America--not countries like China or the UAE--will be the first to offer widespread autonomous car sales. That's a bit surprising, because the U.S. government is largely decentralized, at least as far as auto regulation goes. Until now, rules for self-driving cars have been set state by state.

This year, however, that began to change. In January, the federal Department of Transportation unveiled a massive, $4 billion plan to encourage the development of autonomous vehicles. The following month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that self-driving software is a "driver" in the eyes of the law, which set some legal precedent for determining fault in collisions. And yesterday, NHTSA promised to release a set of "flexible" guidelines for autonomous vehicles next month.

Autonomous vehicles will roll into U.S. showrooms around 2020, with roughly 4.5 million autonomous vehicles on American roads by 2035. That's less than two percent of the 253 million vehicles currently registered in America, and it'll be a smaller slice of the country's auto population in 19 years. However, as we've reported before, even incremental adoption of the technology can yield big benefits. 

IHS says that other key markets for self-driving cars will be China (due to the massive size of its auto market), Western Europe (due to strong demand for luxury vehicles), and Japan and South Korea (in part because both nations are eager adopters of new technology). You can read a press release about the IHS report here.

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