Passenger cars in 2040: New Shell & Prognos study fails to consider the impact of autonomous vehicles

Since 1958 Shell has been publishing scenario analyses of the German passenger vehicle market. Looking 25 years into the future until 2040, Shell and Prognos have just released a detailed analysis of the evolution of the stock of passenger cars, travel patterns and fuel consumption for this time frame. Although they look at an alternative scenario with an accelerated switch to zero emission vehicles, they conclude that “no revolution” is likely to occur until 2040. The only revolution they consider are engine-related changes: in neither scenario will electric or other alternative engine types overtake the internal combustion engine.

Unfortunately, their analysis completely overlooks the emergence of autonomous vehicles. This is more than an unfortunate oversight, because even a cursory analysis should show that fully autonomous vehicles could greatly change travel patterns: Significant parts of the population that currently don’t have access to individual motorized mobility could considerably increase the number of miles traveled. Autonomous mobility services could reduce car ownership and the stock of cars and could accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles for local trips.

How can this happen to a Shell – a company that has pioneered scenario analysis and has always emphasized that – rather than extrapolating the current situation into the future – scenario analysis aims to detect and think about alternative futures? How can their analysis miss a potential game changer for the auto industry?

For more than a year the media have bombarded the public with news about autonomous cars. There can be no doubt that the technology has made enormous progress in the last 10 years and continues to make progress at a rapid pace. No professional who looks at long-term socio-economic trends related to mobility can ignore the potential implications of autonomous vehicles any longer. There is no excuse! Of course, there is room for scepticism about the speed at which the technology will mature. But there is no room for scepticism about the speed at which self-driving cars will be adopted once they are mature (a little careful scenario analysis which looks at business models and transformative aspects of fully autonomous vehicles will quickly yield this insight…).

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