ANN ARBOR, Michigan — The combination of self-driving cars and vehicle sharing could spell a dramatic decrease in vehicle ownership, according to a study released on Monday by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
The study examined the potential impact of self-driving vehicles on household vehicle demand and usage.
In the future, self-driving vehicles may have a "return-to-home" mode that would allow them to return unoccupied to a specific location, thus freeing up their usage for other drivers.
For example, Driver A may commute to work in the self-driving vehicle, which then returns home by itself so that Driver B can run errands. The car would then return by itself to Driver A's workplace for the commute home.
Such a scenario may signal "a significant reduction in average vehicle ownership per household based on vehicle sharing," the study said.
"This reduction in ownership and an accompanying shift to vehicle sharing within each household, in the most extreme hypothetical scenario, could reduce average ownership rates by 43 percent," the study said.
The average ownership rate would drop from 2.1 to 1.2 vehicles per household.
The shift would also result in a 75 percent increase in individual vehicle usage from 11,661 to 20,406 annual miles per vehicle, the study said. As a result, this would cut the average vehicle life span to about 6.5 years from the current 11.4 years.
The upside of that reduction is that the rate at which new self-driving technology would be replaced or updated in the on-road fleet would nearly double versus the current average vehicle age and annual usage rates.
Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle, the study's authors, noted that there are "current unknowns," including "self-driving vehicle acceptance and possible vehicle-sharing strategies within households."
But self-driving cars are on the horizon.
Google has been a major proponent of self-driving vehicles, saying they have the potential to cut road fatalities and offer mobility to those who are unable to drive now. Autonomous cars don't text or drink or get fatigued.
Many automakers are testing self-driving vehicles, including Audi, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan. Nissan, for example, says it plans to have commercially available self-driving cars on the road by 2020. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said his company will have fully autonomous technology by 2020, but it may take another five years for federal and state regulations to catch up.
Edmunds says: We're on the cusp of a major mobility transformation. This study offers a fascinating glimpse into the not-so-distance future.