Study: By 2030, self-driving cars could cut car ownership by 80 percent

May 8, 2017

Stop us if you've heard this one before: someone's published a study on self-driving cars and the effect they'll have on transportation.

In the past year alone, we've seen plenty of those studies. Some show that people are afraid of self-driving vehicles (even though they're totally onboard with semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control and braking assist, and they'd be fine with cars from Google and Apple, which would be largely self-driving.)

Other studies predict that huge numbers of self-driving vehicles will take to the road in the near future and that America's burgeoning gig economy will be hit hard as a result. (Then again, another study claims that more than 2 million disabled people will re-enter the workforce thanks to self-driving cars, so the effect may not be all that bad.) Some reports suggest that autonomous vehicles will have serious, unforeseen impacts, like reducing the supply of donor organs

And arguably the most interesting study we've read in recent months shows that people totally plan to get busy in the back seat while HAL 9000 does the driving. (Others will be praying--though for what, we can only imagine.)


The latest study to cross our inbox comes from RethinkX, which describes itself as "an independent think tank that analyzes and forecasts the speed and scale of technology-driven disruption and its implications across society". The title of the study in question is Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030: The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the Internal-Combustion Vehicle and Oil Industries, which offers some very strong clues as to what's inside. 

The authors of the study reached their conclusions by examining a wide range of factors that will affect the roll-out, acceptance, and purchase of self-driving vehicles. Such factors include early applications of the technology, laws that forbid or encourage self-driving cars, and consumer attitudes toward autonomous vehicles.

It is, of course, just one of many visions of the future, but it's a thoughtful one, and quite a bit of it rings true. The study itself is on the long side, but here are some of the authors' key points. (We've included a link to the full study below.)

Change will happen quickly--and by "quickly", the authors mean "within the next 13 years":

"By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals, in a new business model we call 'transport-as-a-service' (TaaS)."

Change will happen quickly because of the economic benefits to consumers:

"Using TaaS, the average American family will save more than $5,600 per year in transportation costs, equivalent to a wage raise of 10%. This will keep an additional $1 trillion per year in Americans’ pockets by 2030, potentially generating the largest infusion of consumer spending in history....

[Taas] will offer vastly lower-cost transport alternatives — four to ten times cheaper per mile than buying a new car and two to four times cheaper than operating an existing vehicle in 2021."

Lyft, Uber, and other ride-sharing companies will make huge investments in their fleets to vie for customers:

"In this intensely competitive environment, businesses will offer services at a price trending toward cost. As a result, their fleets will quickly transition from human-driven, internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to autonomous electric vehicles (A-EV) because of key cost factors, including ten times higher vehicle-utilization rates, 500,000-mile vehicle lifetimes (potentially improving to 1 million miles by 2030), and far lower maintenance, energy, finance and insurance costs."

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