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Autonomous vehicles to add trillions to Europe's economy

Date: 22 December 2016   |   Author: Tom Webster

Self-driving vehicles will significantly boost the European economy, adding as much as ?17tn to GDP by 2050, according to a report from Nissan.

The boost in earnings will equate to a 5.3% rise in GDP over today's levels, and comes from a variety of factors. Autonomous vehicles could increase in-car productivity, reduce the number of crashes on European roads, reduce road congestion, boost the manufacturing industry and improve fuel efficiency, according to the report, titled Freeing the Road: Shaping the Future for Autonomous Vehicles.

The research shows that EU citizens collectively spend around 100 billion hours in their vehicles each year, with 41 billion of those hours taken up by extra time added to journeys as a result of congestion. The ability to work in a car rather than focus purely on driving would boost productive time by as much as 3%, and as many as 50% of Europeans believe that the ability to multi-task is the main benefit to the eventual rise in autonomous vehicles.

However, research carried out by Nissan also showed that many drivers are already stretching the boundaries of what is permissible behind the wheel, with as many as 81% admitting that they have multi-tasked while on the road.

Changing the radio station was the most common action (68%), followed by eating a meal or snack (42%), or having a hot drink (25%). Despite tightening legislation, almost one in five (18%) admitted to texting while driving.

This attitude suggests that there is still work to be done to change attitudes of drivers, with Matthew Avery, director of insurance research for automotive researchers Thatcham, saying: "It is important to tell drivers these are support systems.

There will be confusion there, and the limitations are really important."

He says that the terminology used by manufacturers could prove problematic, as names such as Tesla's Autopilot could make drivers feel that the car is more capable than it really is. There is more technology on its way, which will only add to this, while changes in the law will mean that self-driving systems will get closer to reality in the next couple of years.

"The pinch point will be 2018/2019," says Avery. "That is when things will change in terms of the Road Traffic Act and what manufacturers can put on their vehicles."

The report also showed that 58% of Europeans would welcome an increase in mobility for everyone, while more than half (52%) of respondents said the biggest positive impact would be a reduction in accidents caused by human error. Despite the relative positive attitude, there remains some wariness towards the technology, with only 23% of those who plan to buy a car in five or more years saying they would consider buying an autonomous vehicle.

Nissan intends to bring its own self-driving technology to the market as early as 2017, with the manufacturer confirming that its best-selling crossover, the Qashqai, will showcase the company's ProPilot systems from next year.

Paul Willcox, chairman of Nissan Europe, confirms that the technology will aid a car's ability to drive in town and on motorways, saying: "Future iterations will allow lane changing and intercity navigation."

However, he stressed the company will ensure that the technology is not rushed to market before people are ready for it, saying: "At Nissan we will not launch this technology until it is ready - there is too much at stake. We don't believe we can beta-test this technology on the road with customers. We are launching high-powered, highly engineered machines and people need to know it is sound."

Beyond the Qashqai, Nissan has confirmed there will be as many as 10 cars on sale with autonomous technology across the Renault-Nissan Alliance by 2020.

Nissan is grouping its autonomous and future plans under the 'Intelligent Mobility' programme, which it says is "a framework for how cars will be driven, powered, and integrated into society". As part of this it has announced the expansion of its xStorage battery packs, which makes use of reclaimed power units from the Leaf electric car .

This programme has been recently expanded to include xStorage Buildings, which offers electric power to commercial premises and was launched with the announcement of a partnership with the Amsterdam Arena. The Dutch stadium is using the equivalent of 280 Leaf battery packs to provide back-up power to the main systems. The xStorage Buildings batteries are available for smaller companies now.