PwC study examines manufacturers attitudes toward self-driving transportation

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While many manufacturers want to develop the capability for the autonomous transport of goods – such as self-driving trucks — most are willing to wait and see until costs come down and the technologies develop, according to a new survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

PwC calls it industrial mobility and it includes everything from mobile and autonomous robots on factory floors, to autonomous trucking, drones, rail, and marine transport in public roads, airspace, tracks, and waterways.

PwC’s Industrial Mobility Survey discovered that just 9 percent of manufacturers have adopted some type of semi-autonomous or autonomous mobility. About 10 percent more are expecting to do so in the next three years.

Among those in wait and see mode, 86 percent said they are waiting for a cost advantage before doing so. Another 47 percent said they are waiting until it is more of an expectation from customers, while 38 percent said they want to see increased safety.

Further, 60 percent said the top barrier to having semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles is cost, followed by immature technology (42 percent), safety issues (32 percent), and lack of talent (32 percent).

However, down the road, when fully autonomous trucks become mainstream, 90 percent of US manufacturers believe they could save up to 25 percent of their total trucking costs by using them. This tracks with what PwC estimates for savings, stating that autonomous, long-haul trucking could save manufacturers nearly 30 percent of total transportation costs through 2040.

“I think the technology to support autonomous long-haul trucking technology will approach maturity in the next five to ten years,” Greg Roger, a policy analyst at the Eno Center for Transportation, told PwC. “However, we’re still 10 to 20 years off from having fully driverless trucks from being a common sight on the roads. I think the fear of displacing human workers and the general public’s initial safety concerns will keep drivers in the trucks for at least another decade, maybe two, beyond that.”

Investment in private mobility companies totaled $6.8 billion from 2012 to 2017 period, PwC found. Of that amount, $2.6 billion was invested in companies developing self-driving vehicles, while $4.2 billion went toward non-auto autonomous mobility.