Electric, hybrid and autonomous vehicles are still years away

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DETROIT — The driverless future built around -powered solutions and other mobility buzzwords is farther away than you might think. So says industry expert Carla Bailo, president of the Center for Automotive Research. The reason? Many consumers don’t want this stuff.

It’s a dose of cold water on the optimistic narrative popular in some circles, espousing that all will soon drive themselves as the internal combustion engine dies quickly in the face of alternative propulsion. Here’s the reality, as Bailo and CAR see it: Just 3.8 percent of vehicles sold in 2030 will be capable of Level 4 or 5 autonomy, the highest levels of self driving technology. Additionally, that same year CAR predicts more than 90 percent of vehicles sold will still have conventional engines, with just 8 percent employing electrification or fuel cells. With fuel prices relatively low and electrics usually carrying a price premium, just 3.3 percent of vehicles in the United States had some form of electrification in 2017.

“First you’ve got to address what the consumer demand is,” said Bailo, who heads the influential research center in Ann Arbor, Mich. “You cannot dictate what you think the customer should be buying.”

Speaking at an Automotive Press Association event here last week, she ticked off the usual challenges facing future tech, including the marriage of smart and “dumb” or legacy vehicles. Even with Level 4 and 5 technologies advancing, there will still be millions of vehicles on the roads that can’t communicate with the new models. In 2016, the average vehicle on US roads was nearly 12 old, according to IHS Markit research, and retirement rates have held steady for the last 30 .

Reconciling vehicles designed and built in different eras will be a problem as new infrastructure is conceived – and it could prove vexing for engineers, government officials and consumers. “As long as you have this co-existence of vehicles, it’s going to prove very difficult,” she said.

Additionally, a downturn in the economy could slow adoption of features since automakers usually use profits from SUVs and large truck sales to pay for future technologies, Bailo said. “Should something happen, it could really delay those investments and the proliferation of the technologies.”

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