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The UK has become the world’s top location for the mass-market potential of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), but this industry, potentially worth £62bn, will be left in tatters if the UK crashes out of the European Union without a deal.
That is the verdict of a new report published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and analysts Frost & Sullivan, which set out to analyse the societal and economic benefits of CAVs.
The report, Connected and autonomous vehicles: winning the global race to market, said the UK had successfully established a world-leading position through a combination of supportive regulation, enabling infrastructure and an attractive market, and in many ways was ahead of countries with more lucrative car industries, such as Germany or Japan.
But in order to realise the sector’s potential, the conditions must be right and sustained support from the government is vital. The report said a no-deal Brexit put this at risk by damaging international collaboration, particularly around data-sharing, and would result in lasting damage to the UK’s reputation as a stable destination for inward investment. In such an environment, the UK may not be able to realise the social and economic benefits of CAVs, it said.
“Brexit has undermined our global reputation for political stability and it continues to devour valuable time and investment,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes. “We need the deadlock broken with ‘no deal’ categorically ruled out and a future relationship agreed that reflects the integrated nature of our industry and delivers frictionless trade.
“A transport revolution stands before us as we move to self-driving cars and the UK is in pole position in this race. Government and industry have already invested millions to lay the foundations, and the opportunities are dramatic – new jobs, economic growth and improvements across society.”
Hawes added: “The UK’s potential is clear. We are ahead of many rival nations, but to realise these benefits, we must move fast.”
As CAV technology begins to be deployed in real-world scenarios outside of test-bed environments, the report also made a number of recommendations for the government.
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- The Department for Transport has issued guidance on trial safety and transparency for self-driving cars, and is sticking by its pledge to have self-driving cars on Britain’s roads in the next two years.
- The National Infrastructure Commission’s Roads for the Future contest has awarded a £50,000 prize fund to two projects exploring how to make the UK’s roads ready for connected and autonomous vehicles.
- Cab operator Addison Lee has teamed up with CAV software specialist Oxbotica to start preparing the streets of London for self-driving cars.
These include much-needed updates to road traffic laws to account for CAVs, particularly around who bears responsibility in accidents, for example; improving 4G mobile coverage along the national road network; encouraging local authorities to work with the industry to implement urban mobility services; and, importantly in the context of Brexit, influencing future harmonisation of international regulations to ensure that CAVs can operate seamlessly when moving between the UK and mainland Europe.
“The UK already has the essential building blocks – forward-thinking legislation, advanced technology infrastructure, a highly skilled labour force and a tech-savvy customer base – to spearhead CAV deployment over the next decade,” said Frost & Sullivan senior partner and head of mobility, Sarwant Singh.
“However, it will require sustained and coordinated efforts by all key stakeholders, especially the government, to realise the significant annual economic benefits forecast for the UK from CAV deployment by 2030 and drive the vision of safe, convenient and accessible mobility for all.”