- According to a PwC survey of roughly 100 manufacturers, 58% believe high costs are a barrier to adopting autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, but 86% believe AVs are a cost advantage in the long run, and at least 50% see potential for double-digit savings.
- Furthermore, 47% are considering AVs because of consumer expectations and 38% because they believe AVs are safer than combustion engine vehicles.
- But manufacturers are largely uninterested in using AVs within their operations: the survey reported that 81% see no cost benefits to using AVs inside the four walls, 50% have not adopted and 30% do not intend to do so.
PwC's study reveals an interesting paradox: while manufacturers are in agreement that AVs — especially semi-autonomous and fully autonomous trucks — are the future of supply chain, they're wary about adopting the technology because there still are so many outstanding issues.
Those issues include regulation, safety concerns and technology perfection, and as a result, manufacturers are cautiously entering the AV space.
The big question poised by the study is, are we really ready for AVs?
Yes and no. Putting a self-driving vehicle into an urban environment is a high-risk move due to significant safety concerns in AVs that haven't yet been addressed (just refer to those Tesla crashes). As the study notes, companies likely won't be using AVs for last-mile deliveries any time soon.
Manufacturers aren't jumping to invest in AV adoption, but many do have plans in place to slowly, incrementally adopt, because the potential for cost savings is so high.
"Only one in ten manufacturers currently uses semi-autonomous or autonomous vehicles within their operations, our survey finds, yet an additional 11% plan to do so in the next three years," the study said. "While a 20% adoption rate in three years may appear paltry, that figure nevertheless suggests manufacturers are on a path leading toward the mainstreaming— considered by some to be attained at 30% adoption of a given technology — of automated/autonomous vehicle technology."
Furthermore, 49% of the manufacturers surveyed believe autonomous trucking will become mainstream in 10 years. But it's still unclear whether trucks will be semi or fully autonomous — as the study says, the industry is in a "wait-and-see mode."
Then there's the infrastructure problem. The nation's roads are crumbling, and the various modes of freight have called on the Trump administration to provide funding, which is currently in the works.
49% of the manufacturers surveyed believe autonomous trucking will become mainstream in 10 years.
PwC's Industrial Mobility Report: How autonomous vehicles can change manufacturing
But AVs need smart sensors in the roads — the survey indicates 64% of manufacturers believe the most important infrastructure investment for AVs are smart sensors in roads — and the likelihood of that happening anytime soon is slim and secondary to highway repair. With so many reasons for hesitation, it's no wonder manufacturers aren't buying into the AV hype.
Even though automakers are already experimenting with AVs for personal use as well as a small amount of semi-trucks, the technology is still in the early stages, and manufacturers don't want to jump the gun on such a high-risk technology. But they can't afford to ignore it either.
Besides, the fact that manufacturers believe AVs will eventually be mainstream is significant in itself: it means manufacturers need to balance caution with bullishness, because right now, to be too hesitant or too aggressive in the AV space bears its own risk.