IHS Automotive estimates annual sales of autonomous, or self-driving, heavy-duty trucks could reach 60,000 annually by 2035.
That would amount to 15 percent of sales for trucks in the big, Class 8 weight segment, assuming that the technology is adopted and reaches “appreciable levels” by the end of the next decade, IHS forecasters said.
Still, the number of self-driving heavy-duty trucks will be just a fraction of the 4.5 million autonomous cars expected to be on on U.S. roads by 2035.
Global sales of self-driving vehicles are expected to reach approximately 600,000 vehicles by 2025 and grow substantially over the next 10 years, said Egil Juliussen, director of research at IHS.
“Our new forecast reflects a 43 percent compound annual growth rate between 2025 and 2035, a decade of substantial growth, as driverless and self-driving cars alike are more widely adopted in all key global automotive markets,” he said.
Approximately 21 million vehicles with some level of autonomy – meaning they have the ability to at least partially drive themselves – are expected be sold globally in the year 2035. Around 76 million vehicles with some level of autonomy are expected to be sold globally over the next 19 years.
The U.S. is expected to be first to deploy autonomous vehicles “as it works through challenges posed by regulation, liability and consumer acceptance,” the IHS report said.
Eight states have already adopted rules regarding research and testing of self-driving vehicles along U.S. road ways. Eighteen states have introduced bills this year regarding autonomous vehicles, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Daimler debuted its Freightliner “Inspiration Truck,” the world’s first licensed autonomous truck, in Nevada a year ago. Nevada was the first state to authorize the operation of autonomous vehicles back in 2011.
The U.S. Army plans to test its convoy of self-driving trucks along a stretch of Interstate 69 in Michigan in late June.
A task force of industry experts, known as SAFE, has also been set up in the U.S. to develop “an action plan” to facilitate the widespread deployment of autonomous technology.
In Europe, the Netherlands initiated a European Truck Platooning Challenge in 2016 with the goal to bring platooning a step closer to implementation. Six makers of automated trucks – DAF Trucks, Daimler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Truck and Bus, Scania and Volvo Group – have been platooning on public roads from several European cities to the Netherlands.
Platoon technology allows tightly contained, digitally connected packs of two to five trucks to drive in formation to reduce wind resistance and increase fuel efficiency. The pack can be controlled by a “captain” in the cab of the front vehicle and the rest could follow autonomously. This could ultimately reduce labor costs by reducing the need for drivers.
Daimler Trucks also tested three autonomous trucks in a platoon formation in live traffic on the A52 autobahn near Dusseldorf, Germany, in 2015.
There is significant potential for autonomous trucks to improve safety, operational efficiency and carrier profitability. They could also help alleviate the driver shortage in several countries, including the U.S., said Tom De Vleesschauwer, an IHS industry analysist.
Because of the anticipated high price tag, only larger fleets may be able to afford the trucks equipped with the autonomous technology, “putting smaller operators potentially at a competitive loss,” he said.