Study: Within 15 years, 25 percent of travel will be in shared, electric, self-driving cars

April 11, 2017

If you follow car news at all, you've heard plenty about electrification, self-driving software, and shared vehicles. The three are on a collision course that could upend the auto industry and dramatically affect the way we get around in the near future.

In fact, analysts at the Boston Consulting Group predict that by 2030, this perfect technological storm could mean that 25 percent of all miles driven in the U.S.--up to 925 billion of them--will take place in shared, electric, self-driving cars.

Follow the money

How is that possible? After speaking with thousands of consumers, poring over traffic data, and speaking to industry experts, BCG says that the change will occur largely because electrification, autonomous tech, and ride-/car-sharing are evolving quickly and at roughly the same rate.

More importantly, the three aren't competing technologies, as, say, VHS and Beta were in the 1980s, or more recently, Blu-ray and HD DVD. On the contrary: they're complementary technologies. They can be combined to increase efficiency and value to consumers, so they're likely to be adopted as a trio.

And that, in turn, creates an economic benefit. BCG predicts that the three technologies could slash the cost of travel by 60 percent: 

"By using SAEVs [shared autonomous electric vehicles], a typical Chicagoan who owns a car and drives 10,000 miles a year could cut the cost of travel from around $1.20 per mile to around 50 cents per mile. Over the course of a year, that could put more than $7,000 in that driver’s pocket—effectively doubling consumer discretionary income."

Savings like that will drive further demand for these products, faster improvements, and greater competition, which, at the very least, will ensure that they become increasingly popular.

Sales slump?

What's interesting, however, is that BCG doesn't expect that the shift will have much of an effect on auto sales. A study released in 2015 suggested that self-driving vehicles alone could cut annual sales by as much as 50 percent, but BCG predicts that demand will be roughly the same. While individual sales might suffer, fleet operators (like Uber, Lyft, and such) will take up the slack: 

"While total vehicle demand will only be affected slightly, by 2030 more than 5 million conventional cars per year could be replaced by a combination of fully autonomous electric vehicles for urban fleets and partially autonomous cars for personal use. Cities will benefit from less congestion and cleaner air, but could be disadvantaged by falling ridership on public transit, fear of which could result in some cities proactively trying to regulate the number of SAEVs on the road."

In raw numbers, BCG predicts that by the year 2030, 4.7 million self-driving electric cars will have replaced 5.1 million conventional automobiles. (Because autonomous cars can be shared, there will be less need for every driver in a family to have constant access to a vehicle.)

Broader changes

That could spell big trouble for dealers, since many of those sales will be to fleet owners. (Folks who maintain fleets, though, could be positioned to make bank.) It's not music to the ears of aftermarket shop owners or insurance agents, either, since SAEVs are likely to have far fewer accidents and require less maintenance. Nor will it excite execs at oil and gas companies, for obvious reasons. 

The shift will likely begin in the early 2020s. It'll be most visible in larger cities of more than 1 million people, where car ownership is already a pricey proposition. However, BCG notes that if tech costs fall rapidly, SAEVs could become popular in medium-sized cities, too. Smaller cities and rural areas will be the last to come onboard.

BCG's Justin Rose sums it up nicely: "The automotive industry is on the brink of a major transformation, and it’ll be here faster than people realize. 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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