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A new consumer study published by BNP Paribas indicates that more than half of the people surveyed indicate they would be interested in purchasing a self-driving car.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- December 21, 2015 -- A new study from a French investment bank finds that drivers seem amenable to giving up the reins when it comes to driving. The emergence of automated vehicles will lead to reduced injuries and better vehicle care, and so will be welcomed by consumers, or so says a major study of consumer habits published by French bank BNP Paribas.

The study, Observatoire Cetelem, has been published annually since 1985. The objective of the survey is to anticipate changes in spending trends. The survey is conducted in countries around the world, and so represents a global snapshot of consumer trends. The 2016 edition has a lengthy section that focuses on the arrival of automated vehicles. And no wonder. The vehicle market is the world's single largest consumer goods sector. The emergence of connected cars will have a major impact on this key market.

The study notes that the current good times in the auto industry should continue in 2016. The Observatoire found that the market for new passenger vehicles grew by an average of 2.2 percent worldwide in 2015. The Observatoire expects another year of growth in 2016 with an estimated 3.6 percent rise in sales worldwide (+3.1 percent in France). But it is the section on connected cars that is the most interesting part of the survey.

According to the report (written in French, translated here), suggests that, “In its most complete version, the communicating vehicle is expected to become more and more intelligent ... [eventually leading to a fully] autonomous car.”

The idea of “autonomous cars is almost as old as the automobile itself.” But it has only been through the 2000s that “history has accelerated: research has increased significantly.” The technology is now arriving at a point where AVs are a practical possibility.

The report notes the US has been fastest off the mark in terms of developing AVs. The US is where the Google Car has now travelled nearly 3 million kilometers, more than 1.5 million in “100 percent standalone mode.” The company says it is ready to market the first vehicles in 2020.

Key to the evolution of the AV market in the US has been the creation of an appropriate regulatory environment. The report notes the United States is out in front in terms of the “advancement of the regulatory framework of the autonomous vehicle.” The United States, pioneer in the field, has been updating legislation for several years to allow AVs. In Japan, a national plan is underway for the development of 100 percent Japanese autonomous vehicles. In China, a changing regulation provides a framework for experimentation and commercialization. Elsewhere, particularly in Europe, but also in Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, which entered into force in 1977, does not allow on-road autonomous vehicles. The convention states that a driver must have the hands on the wheel at all times, and that the driver is the sole contractor and responsible for his vehicle. As a result, Europe lags North America in terms of the ability to develop AVs. However, this is changing. In Germany, a law in preparation will soon allow testing autonomous vehicles on a section of the motorway between Berlin and Munich. In the UK, legislation is expected in 2017 to supervise the tests of these vehicles. In France, the Law on Energy Transition 2015 authorizes the government to bring legislation "to allow traffic on the highway vehicles partial or total delegation of conduct."

One of the promises of AVs is the potential positive effect on urban traffic congestion. If drivers can begin to delegate all or part of their driving, this will lead to more efficient and “fluid” traffic patterns. As well, in a world of “100 percent autonomous vehicles” the car will coordinate with its environment, reducing the main sources of congestion that are maladaptive behaviors and road accidents. That is, cars will begin to organize themselves to avoid congestion.

The study goes on to suggest that autonomous vehicles will increase the well-being and society by “significantly” lowering stress levels. As drivers recover more of the time currently spent caught up in traffic, motorists will be able to devote more attention to family and friends, entertainment and work. There will also be a significant impact on the death rates associated with vehicles. As it is, road accidents each year are responsible for the deaths of 1.2 million people. The number of people “wounded” in car accidents is estimated at over 50 million worldwide. With almost 90 percent of accidents caused by human error “the growing number of driver assistance technologies and tomorrow's autonomous car, carry great promise in terms of road safety.”

According to the report, in a world of autonomous vehicles, motorists will pay cheaper insurance because the overall cost of automobile accidents decreases. However, vehicles must be insured against equipment failures and digital systems and certainly against their remote hackers. With the connected car, new insurance models will emerge. On the other hand, it is likely that the purchase price of an autonomous vehicle “will be higher than today's vehicles, given the considerable amount of embedded intelligence.”

Some other stats from the study:

- The proportion of drivers globally who are now using a driver assistance system represents a majority. Overall, an average of 69 percent of motorists use a smartphone, 40 percent a mobile GPS device and 32 percent a computer for journey preparation or guidance.

- Connected cars are viewed positively by motorists who regard them as advantageous in terms of driving comfort (83 percent), saving time (81 percent) and safety (77 percent). Drivers also reported that increased safety (77 percent) and an opportunity to save money (73 percent) as their main expectations for this type of car.

- According to the report, a majority of respondents—55 percent—said they are prepared to buy a Google Car or an Apple Car if these vehicles were to go on sale.


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