Intel Corp. is forecasting that by 2050, the future of fully automated vehicles will become a $7 trillion "Passenger Economy".

This prediction is from a report by Strategy Analytics, a market research firm hired by Intel to study the concept of "Passenger Economy" and write about the future of fully automated vehicles.

Any forecast designed not only to predict the long-term future of a commercial product, but also to cover a broad swath of social and economic impacts, faces a few accountability issues. For one thing, how many of us who read the report today will be around in 2050 to check the results?

Moreover, a big number like $7 trillion, which the report describes is “more than the projected 2017 GDPs of Japan and Brazil combined,” catches the eye, but it also renders the report somewhat suspect. One can’t help but wonder if the report is a little self-serving to the company who paid for the research.

Given such caveats, it’s easy to dismiss this report. But as I read through, I found that, wittingly or unwittingly, it explains fully automated cars more effectively than most other market forecasts I’ve seen.

The report does not provide sales forecasts for fully autonomous cars over the next 20 years, profiles of potential buyers, or penetration rates for autonomous vehicles per household. I suspect such omissions are by design.

The report’s key takeaway is that the future—to be created by fully automated cars and autonomous technologies—is neither about vehicles nor the automotive business. It’s about the world beyond transportation affected by fully automated technologies.

Let me explain what led me to this conclusion, and why I think the report is worth reading.

Why does Intel care?

The report offers a rare look into the corporate mind at places like Intel, who are heavily invested in driverless cars. It illustrates their need to identify – if not justify – the opportunity for a pilotless vehicle future.

During the press briefing on the report, when asked why Intel cares enough to commission this costly forecast, Intel's vice president and general manager of Automated Driving Solutions Group, Doug Davis, explained that knowing the future is essential to anticipating the challenges ahead.

“Evident from other technologies we’ve lived through,” Davis said, “The more we understand the future, the better positioned we will be to adapt to it.”

Carmakers become service providers

Second, this report attests to a notion that car OEMs—in an era when individual car ownership is expected to decline—can’t survive by just making cars. They must change.

As Strategy Analytics made clear, forecasting the market size of highly automated vehicles is not the point. Its Passenger Economy analysis focuses on “the economic and societal value that will be generated by fully autonomous (SAE Level five) pilotless vehicles.”

20170608_Intel_Passenger Economy_01 Figure 1: Passenger Economy breakdown. Source: Strategy Analytics

Asked to break down a $7-trillion Passenger Economy, Roger Lanctot, the report’s author and director of Automotive Connected Mobility at Strategy Analytics, made it clear: $7 trillion “is the number divorced from hardware.”

In short, $7 trillion does not count actual sales of self-driving cars. Rather, that big number is revenue from such services as pilotless fleets, deliveries, taxis, ride-shares, emerging applications and services, the analyst explained.

In Lactot’s view, “Carmakers are rapidly evolving to become software companies and service providers.” Carmakers will generate revenue “by running services on networked vehicles,” he added.

 
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