DEROIT — Drivers, soon you may not need to start your engines — or flick the turn signal stalk, hit the brakes or even turn the steering wheel.
Cars with self-driving features are already here and their numbers are growing. Fully automated vehicles are expected to start hitting showrooms around 2025.
While that timeline isn't surprising — automakers and vehicle safety regulators have been on the self-driving car bandwagon for several years now — a new study by Boston Consulting Group suggests that consumers will adopt so-called autonomous vehicles at a pretty rapid pace.
That means big changes in the way we drive, and in what we pay for our cars and trucks.
By 2035, about 25 percent of all new vehicles will have at least some self-driving features, the global consulting group said in a report previewed for the media this week.
That's 30 million cars and trucks.
Most of them, about 18 million, will be partially autonomous — able, for instance, to drive themselves in highway traffic but needing a human in control to get to and from the highway. But 12 million will be fully capable of self-driving in all conditions.
Those features — which could help reduce accidents and lower insurance rates — will come with a cost, however.
The analysts, who based their report on extensive interviews with vehicle and equipment manufacturers around the world, said the typical vehicle with partial self-driving features, such as highway following, braking and lane-keeping, might cost $4,000 more on average than a similar car or truck without those features.
A fully autonomous car is likely to hit the market with a price premium of at least $10,000, the report says.
Part of the study included a survey of 1,500 U.S. consumers and showed that almost half of North American consumers intending to buy a new car in the next decade say they want at least a few key self-driving features on a future vehicle.
Only about 20 percent, though, said they'd be willing to pay more than $5,000 to get them. That indicates that the initial crop of autonomous features will be bundled into luxury and exotic cars — market segments in which price really isn't much of an issue.
Costs could come down at a rate of up to 10 percent a year for the first few years, though, thanks to manufacturing efficiencies and increasing volumes. That ultimately will make self-driving cars affordable in the mass market, the study says.
Consumers in Western Europe and Japan are likely to be the fastest adopters of automated driving features, and China is likely to be the biggest market, accounting for as much as 30 percent of global sales by 2035.
Drivers in the U.S. will account for about 13 percent of the market in 2035. That's 4 million cars and trucks with self-driving features; 2.3 million partially autonomous and 1.7 million fully.
While the technologies are already here with features such as active cruise control, land-keeping assist and rear-collision mitigation and avoidance systems, mass adoption won't happen overnight. That will require new government rules, insurance industry cooperation and development of systems that can assure that autonomous vehicles' computerized control systems are insulated from cyber attack, says Xavier Mosquet, head of Boston Consulting's North American automotive practice and director of the group's Detroit office.
But all those things will happen and the momentum is building, he said.
Upcoming developments in self-driving vehicles include:
Mercedes-Benz, which already sells a car that can pilot itself on a freeway but requires the driver to keep a hand on the wheel, plans to drop the hand-on requirement in 2016;
General Motors has said it will offer a feature called "super cruise" on a 2016 Cadillac sedan that will enable the car to stay in its lane, and brake and accelerate as necessary to keep up with highway traffic;
Volkswagen has announced plan for a fully automated urban driving system in the 2016-'17 time frame.
Collision avoidance systems developer Mobileye has announced plans for the 2016 launch, with two carmaker partners, of a system that will permit hands-free driving both at highway speeds and in congested traffic.
Nissan has said it will have a fully autonomous car ready for market by 2020 and plans several interim steps including self-parking cars and automated traffic jam negotiation and lane-changing systems by 2018.
"We are witnessing a decades-old dream come true," says Mosquet.
Edmunds says: Partial or full, pricey or not, anyway you look at it self-driving features are speeding their way to market; oh what relief they promise to slaves of the long commute.