The reversal of fortune for autonomous cars has been swift and merciless. Just a year ago, the forecast was looking rosy and only some observers were making difficult noises about how far away we were from, well, autonomous cars on the roads.
We knew that regulators would get involved and when they did, delays were inevitable. We also knew that the fate of autonomous cars lay, fair and square, in the eyes of the beholder and if the beholder did not like – or trust – what he saw, then delays would be added to delays.
Now, though, the money is drying up. Investors are looking at the numbers and not seeing any return in the foreseeable future. Specialised automotive funds are closing due to lack of support from major automotive companies and motoring organisations.
The recent survey we reported on simply put numbers on what we were all beginning to think. The most telling statistics were the lack of premium that buyers would be prepared to pay for an autonomous car and the fact that Chinese respondents would wait for five years after autonomous cars had been rolled out before they would consider buying. Oh, and if ride hailing took off, they would probably go with that.
It is difficult to know where this will go – apart from into the trough of Disillusionment as Gartner might say and it will be a long time before autonomous cars hit the plateau of Productivity.
One thing that could happen is that this sudden braking of the market could level the playing field and bring about more of an evolution than the revolution that the tech players were hoping for. Car manufacturers now have an opportunity to regain lost ground, to stick to the roadmap that takes us to autonomy via advanced driver assistance systems.
All of which, while it means frustration for those who were hoping for early returns, will mean that autonomous cars will be introduced when the regulators are happy and people have seen that they are as safe, or safer, than any other car.