Self-driving cars could provide £62bn boost to UK economy by 2030
Britain’s leading position in developing self-driving cars could produce a £62bn economic boost by 2030, the car industry claimed – but warned that such potential could be jeopardised by a no-deal Brexit.
A report published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said the UK has significant advantages over other countries in pushing connected and autonomous vehicles, including forward-looking legislation allowing autonomous cars to be insured and driven on a greater proportion of roads than elsewhere.
Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT, said more than £500m had been invested in research and development by industry and government, and another £740m in communications infrastructure to enable autonomous cars to work.
He said: “The opportunities are dramatic – new jobs, economic growth and improvements across society. The UK’s potential is clear. We are ahead of many rival nations but to realise these benefits we must move fast.”
However, he repeated warnings over Brexit. “No deal is not an option and would be catastrophic for this industry, and the UK’s position globally would be undermined.
“While we are devoting a huge amount of money to Brexit it is sucking up time, energy and investment we would rather be devoting to technology challenges.”
Hawes said widespread trials of autonomous vehicles were already under way and the industry would attempt to achieve the government’s ambition of driverless vehicles on the roads by 2021.
The report, produced for the SMMT by Frost & Sullivan, ranked the UK above competitors including Germany, US, Japan and South Korea as a global destination for the mass rollout of autonomous cars. It said the UK had the “essential building blocks – forward-thinking legislation, advanced technology infrastructure, a highly skilled labour force and a tech-savvy customer base” to spearhead their deployment.
The UK has the world’s first insurance legislation for autonomous vehicles already in place and more miles of motorways, urban and rural roads where self-driving cars can go, the report said.
The SMMT claimed the technology could prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives in the next decade.
However, Andy Palmer, the chief executive of Aston Martin, said he did not expect to see full autonomy in the next 20 years. He criticised measures announced to limit speed and said he believed manufacturers should go straight to level-four autonomy – where cars can essentially drive themselves and park safely should there be a problem – rather than bring in features that remove some control from the driver.
Palmer suggested the timetable for deployment of driverless cars had been exaggerated. “You’re going to see robotaxis in geofenced areas as early as 2021-22. I don’t think you’ll see commercial distribution of level-four vehicles until the mid-2020s. I don’t think you’ll see level five in my career. To drive up a mountain or a Delhi or London street – I think we’re dreaming if we think it’s going to be around the corner.”
He also hit out at Brexit uncertainty, despite stating that the luxury carmaker was relatively protected. “We’re less exposed but equally pissed off.”
However, he said: “If there’s a hard Brexit the pound will collapse and our cars will get cheaper [for foreign buyers].”