Brexit could stymie UK's edge in £62bn driverless car market

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

Britain's tortuous departure from the European Union could pose a threat to its lead in the burgeoning £62bn driverless car market.

That's according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which said the UK is currently in pole position in the global race to market for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), with a £62 billion boost to the UK economy by 2030 up for grabs.

The comments come as the SMMT and Frost & Sullivan published a new report today called Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Winning the Global Race to Market, which analyses the wide-ranging societal and economic benefits to be achieved by gradually increasing CAVs on our roads.

The UK’s departure from the EU must be orderly, with a deal that supports both the industry and technological collaboration, especially in data, the trade body said. 

A ‘no deal’ Brexit, the SMMT said, will result in lasting damage to the UK’s reputation as a politically stable destination for inward investment, putting the benefits identified in the report at risk.

Transport revolution

“A transport revolution stands before us as we move to self-driving cars and the UK is in pole position in this £62 billion race”, said Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive. 

“Government and industry have already invested millions to lay the foundations, and the opportunities are dramatic – new jobs, economic growth and improvements across society. The UK’s potential is clear. 

Driverless threat: SMMT CEO, Mike Hames, says Brexit could slow down UK's driverless car prowess

“We are ahead of many rival nations, but to realise these benefits we must move fast. Brexit has undermined our global reputation for political stability and it continues to devour valuable time and investment. 

“We need the deadlock broken with ‘no deal’ categorically ruled out and a future relationship agreed that reflects the integrated nature of our industry and delivers frictionless trade.”

Sarwant Singh, Senior Partner and Head of Mobility, Frost & Sullivan, said the UK already had the essential building blocks such as “forward thinking legislation, advanced technology infrastructure, a highly skilled labour force, and a tech savvy customer base” in place to spearhead CAV deployment over the next decade. 

“However, it will require sustained and coordinated efforts by all key stakeholders, especially the government, to realise the significant annual economic benefits forecast for the UK from CAV deployment by 2030 and drive the vision of safe, convenient and accessible mobility for all.”

Strong position to capitalise

The UK is in a strong position to capitalise, with more than £500 million already committed by industry and government to CAV R&D and testing, the SMMT said. 

Autonomous driving trials are taking place in the UK's major towns and cities, and the UK is home to four major CAV test beds and three additional sites focused on highways, rural and parking, with more than 80 collaborative R&D projects underway. 

On the road: Driverless car sector could boost UK's fortunes

The next game-changing step is to move from testing CAV technologies to deployment in the real world.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) such as Autonomous Emergency Braking and Collision Warning are already available on the majority of new cars registered in the UK. 

Combined with the gradual introduction of automated vehicles from 2021, this will deliver massive safety benefits. 

Over the next decade, the technology is set to prevent 47,000 serious accidents and save 3,900 lives. At the same time, some 420,000 new jobs will be created, including in the automotive industry and other sectors such as telecoms and digital services, the report found. 

Driving commuters, meanwhile, will gain back the equivalent of a full working week thanks to more ‘downtime’ and smoother traffic flows during their commute.

The report identifies three critical areas that will help CAV rollout and in which the UK has a significant advantage: supportive regulation, enabling infrastructure and an attractive market. 

Insurance legislation already in place

With the world’s first insurance legislation for autonomous vehicles already in place, the most comprehensive review of road transport underway and more miles across motorways, urban and rural roads able to be driven autonomously, the UK is already ahead of global rivals in its readiness to commercialise self-driving technology. 

The report ranks the UK above other major automotive countries, including Germany, US, Japan and South Korea as a global destination for the mass rollout of CAVs.

To realise this potential, however, the SMMT said conditions must be right, and sustained support from government will be vital – particularly if the UK is to meet its ambition to get autonomous vehicles on to UK roads in 2021. 

The report’s key recommendations for government include updating road traffic laws, improving 4G coverage across all road networks, encouraging local authorities to work with industry to implement urban mobility services and influencing future harmonisation of international regulations to ensure these new vehicles can operate seamlessly between the UK and abroad.

The report was launched today at SMMT Connected 2019, the third automotive industry-led event to explore the future of mass transport and mobility. 

More than 450 leaders from across the automotive and tech industries, government and other stakeholders are expected to attend to discuss challenges and opportunities in future mobility innovation and deployment. 

They will hear from speakers including the Right Hon Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy; Dr Andy Palmer CMG, President and Group CEO, Aston Martin Lagonda; and Agustín Martín, CEO, Toyota Connected Europe.

On display at SMMT Connected 2019 will be some of the latest connected and autonomous mobility solutions and prototypes in use in the UK covering four and two wheels. 

These include: Aurrigo pod, Bird electric scooter, Bosch powered e-bike, Conigital pod, Cyclopic folding e-bike, Mercedes-Benz Actros 1853 4x2 BigSpace, Oxbotica autonomous Ford Mondeo, Jaguar Land Rover self-driving Range Rover Sport and Volvo XC60.

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