Will we be able to afford self driving cars anytime soon?

This question swiftly makes way in our minds as more car manufacturers become more involved in the subject. Self driving cars aren’t fantasy anymore but a technology bound to appear on the market. The great question, however, is who will be able to afford this technology ?

From the manufacturers perspective all that seem to matter is how to make this dream come true, while also getting back the money they invest into research and actually building this. Plus, what matters more is how fast they’ll be able to make their money back, and turn this into a profitable new market opportunity.

How much are we willing to pay ?

When it comes to affordable products, whatever they might be, we need to see everything from the eyes of the buyer. In the case of the self driving cars, “it’s a chicken and egg thing, the have’s versus the have not’s,” as John Absmeier, director for Delphi’s Silicon Valley Innovation Center, gently presents it. “When people start buying the technology the cost will come down, but the cost has to come down before most people will buy it.”

According to National Automobile Dealers Association, the price an average US driver is willing to pay for a new car is $30,000. Which is nowhere near the price of the self-driving cars Google is trying to prove in the video below.

The Toyota Prius that is presented in the video has a price range somewhere at about $320,000. So the conclusion would be that if you can afford a Ferrari in your youth, you can afford self driving cars when you’re older.

Build self driving cars in a less expensive way

While some automotive companies won’t have a problem selling expensive technology, others may not have the same faith. BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz might have the clients to pay up but even they won’t spend unreasonable prices.

Ford, on the other hand, decided not to get into the competition of building a vehicle that can pilot itself, but rather focus on more simplified hardware. Miniaturization, sensor fusion and integration of controllers is what their research focuses on.

Having one multi-domain controller with one processor that receives the information from the body and security of the vehicle in order to make decisions is more cost effective than a software that manages more controllers of the self driving cars. 

It has also been proven that cost effective systems can be built. In 2013 a romanian student won the Gordon E. Moore Award at Intel’s (INTC)International Science and Engineering Fair, for a self-driving system that costed 4000$ compared to Google’s 75000$ at that time. And he’s not the only one. The University of Oxford managed to create one for $7,500.

I don’t doubt that the systems have different precision and Google’s system has been extensively tested. The large difference between sums does prove that a more affordable system can be built.

The cost of the car in the long term

Let’s admit that we don’t buy a car for one drive only. We do it as an investment in our lifestyle. We also spend on a regular basis lots of money to keep it running at it’s best performance. The same will be true for the self-driving cars.

There are some who consider that having a self-driving electric car will pay up in the end. As the cost are diminished with fuel, maintenance and insurance. These advantages may make sense but they mostly come from the electric concept not the self-driving cars concept.

So will we be buying self-driving cars in 2015 ?

Most probably not. Even if they come up more likely on the market the manufacturers need to consider the impact that the price has on their clients.

As long as they don’t focus on diminishing the costs, the large majority might only buy them in 2030.

Philipp Kandal