For just about everyone today, the idea of self-driving or “autonomous” cars is still just a niche curiosity. Maybe they’ve heard about the concept from their friends or read about it in tech blogs, but they could never imagine driving such a vehicle themselves. According to new market research, though, that mindset is about to change. IHS Markit says that 51,000 sales of autonomous cars are expected worldwide in 2021, and that number will ramp up to 33 million by 2040.
The research organization anticipates that the United States will be at the forefront of that movement, with initial deployment from car manufacturers and early adoption among drivers both picking up as early as 2019. China and some European markets are expected to follow not long after. Investment from tech companies in new transportation technology, along with the rise of a new breed of mobility service providers, were cited as key factors driving this movement.
“The first autonomous vehicle volumes—beyond retrofit test vehicles—will arrive in 2019 through driverless mobility services,” IHS Markit automotive technology research director Egil Juliussen said in a statement. “Volumes will surpass 51,000 units in 2021, when personally-owned autonomous cars reach individual buyers for the first time, and IHS Markit forecasts estimate nearly 1 million units will be sold in 2025 across shared fleets and individually-owned cars.”
The U.S. will see the world’s first run of autonomous vehicle sales, while the federal and state governments are likely to have an industry-friendly regulatory approach, IHS Markit said. China is projected to eventually lead the world in total volume of sales, while European markets will add significant value on account of their technology-rich luxury brands.
It will be interesting to monitor how the autonomous car industry evolves in the decades to come. There will be a number of business decisions ahead for the automakers. Key issues are likely to involve the “battery versus hybrid” debate as well as cybersecurity, data privacy and monetization.