Quick, when you think of self-driving cars and trucks and other news of autonomous vehicles, what comes to mind? OK, maybe an unfair question today given the Waymo v Uber lawsuit trial that began yesterday. But most of us think in terms of passenger cars rather than industrial uses.

PwC worked on a study and Bobby Bono (pictured), Carolyn Lee, and Todd Benigni all of PwC wrote a blog post, Can you be a first mover in industrial mobility? discussing the investment in manufacturing outdistancing the investment in passenger vehicles.

PwC Bobby Bono

When it comes to self-driving vehicles, passenger cars may grab most of the headlines, but they aren’t capturing most of the investment in the space. According to a PwC analysis, of the $6.8 billion raised by autonomous-transport startups since 2012, about 62% has gone to companies working on technology for vehicles ranging from drones to unmanned forklifts and tractor-trailers, all pieces of the larger ecosystem of industrial mobility.

Significantly, these investments in the pioneers of industrial mobility have been accelerating in recent years. From 2012 to 2014, companies working on automobiles received about as much investment ($660 million) as those building non-auto solutions ($702 million). But from 2015 to 2017, non-auto investment increased five-fold to $3.5 billion, while investment in companies working on tech for passenger cars rose a comparatively modest 188% to $1.9 billion.

Why does this matter? The rapid growth in capital pouring into startups working on industrial mobility reveals that hefty bets are being placed on the prospect that the impact of autonomous vehicles may well first made more forcibly upon industrial applications – even as self-driving passenger cars continue to capture consumers’ imagination.

Attitudes toward self-driving trucks are a good example of this cautious approach. Nearly two-thirds of respondents in the survey said they’ll wait and see how the technology evolves before adopting it. That’s especially interesting, given that most all survey respondents estimated that autonomous trucks could slash transportation costs by up to 25%. In a nutshell: they see the potential, but aren’t quite ready to jump in.

Cost is arguably the most important factor keeping manufacturers on the sidelines. The high cost of autonomous technology was the most frequently cited barrier to adoption in our survey, with nearly six in 10 respondents identifying it as a hurdle. At the same time, 86% said advanced industrial mobility’s ability to deliver a cost advantage was among the factors most likely to prompt them to embrace the technology.

With investment in industrial mobility surging, it’s a fair bet that businesses may see autonomous technology’s value proposition start to seem more attractive (and proven) sooner rather than later. And, it only stands to reason that some early adopters – and the early-stage companies developing the technology they implement – will score a competitive edge while their peers loiter on the sidelines.

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