A look around the show floor itself showed perhaps that L4 AVs would be mainly shared, rather than private cars. The promise of private cars achieving full self-driving technology was dismissed by ZF, a tier-one German auto parts supplier. Its CEO Wolf-Henning Schneider commented that they ‘see no viable business case for private ownership’ for AVs. He said that Level 2+ was the way forward for private cars, and L4 made sense only for commercial fleet and transit application.
This may explain the following observations:
The automakers were primarily showcasing commercial fleet vehicles, like the Toyota e-Palette that is due at the Tokyo Olympics, with L4 capabilities.
There were no signs of L3 products. MobileEye were showing L2++, an upgrade from L2+ which include greater driver monitoring – and then straight to L4/L5 products earmarked for 2022.
The conclusions therefore are:
Autonomous driving is likely to come in lower volumes than previously anticipated for the next 5 years, focused on commercial fleet and transit vehicles. For Level 4 self-driving systems, human occupants have zero role. Consequently, its application appears more suited to commercial fleets offering mobility to those who cannot or do not want to drive, and in conjunction with carsharing offer mobility to those who do not have ready access to a car.
Privately-owned vehicles are likely to remain in L1/L2+/L2++ territory for a while – autonomous driving features can become more advanced, but the legal position for the driver is ‘you engage it, you are liable for it’.
A clear bottleneck for privately-owned vehicle market becoming L3 is that auto OEMs become liable for any accidents. The technology therefore does not as yet stand up to scrutiny in terms of risk management for the OEMs.
Qualcomm also announced a computing system for autonomous vehicles designed to handle everything from lane controls to full self-driving that it aims to have on the road by 2023. The system, dubbed Snapdragon Ride, is the company’s first foray into a full system to power self-driving cars. The company has been a major automotive supplier for more than a decade, but primarily for the modem chips that connect vehicles to the internet and chips for the infotainment systems that power screens inside vehicles.