By Bobby Bono, Partner, US Diversified Manufacturing Leader, PwC; Carolyn Lee, Executive Director, The Manufacturing Institute; and Todd Benigni, Principal, Operations Consulting, PwC
When it comes to self-driving vehicles, passenger cars may grab most of the headlines, but they aren’t capturing most of the investment in the space. Of the $6.8 billion raised by autonomous-transport startups since 2012, about 62 percent has gone to companies working on technology for vehicles ranging from drones to unmanned forklifts and tractor-trailers, according to an analysis by PwC.
Significantly, these investments in the pioneers of industrial mobility—a term we use to describe technologies enabling the autonomous movement of goods on both private property like factory floors as well as via public roads, waterways and airspace—have been accelerating in recent years. From 2012 to 2014, companies working on automobiles received about as much investment ($660 million) as those building non-auto solutions ($702 million). But from 2015 to 2017, non-auto investment increased five-fold to $3.5 billion, while investment in companies working on tech for passenger cars rose a comparatively modest 188 percent to $1.9 billion.
Why does this matter? The rapid growth in capital pouring into startups working on industrial mobility reveals that hefty bets are being placed on the prospect that the impact of autonomous vehicles may well be first made more forcibly upon industrial applications—even as self-driving passenger cars continue to capture consumers’ imagination.
Indeed, autonomous vehicles—as a broader technology—are still in their adolescence, though they’re growing fast. And there appears to still be open opportunities for investors and businesses alike to reap the potential benefits of embracing industrial mobility as early adopters and investors. That’s because most businesses surveyed for Industrial Mobility: How Autonomous Vehicles Can Change Manufacturing, a new study from PwC and The Manufacturing Institute, said they’d rather wait for the technology to prove itself than to take on the risk of being an early adopter. Just 9 percent of manufacturers have adopted some sort of autonomous mobility within their operations, while 11 percent expect to do so in the next three years.
Attitudes toward self-driving trucks are a good example of this cautious approach. Nearly two-thirds of respondents in the survey said they’ll wait and see how the technology evolves before adopting it. That’s especially interesting, given that most survey respondents estimated that autonomous trucks could slash transportation costs by up to 25 percent. In a nutshell: they see the potential, but aren’t quite ready to jump in.
Cost is arguably the most important factor keeping manufacturers on the sidelines. The high cost of autonomous technology was the most frequently cited barrier to adoption in our survey, with nearly six in 10 respondents identifying it as a hurdle. At the same time, 86 percent said advanced industrial mobility’s ability to deliver a cost advantage was among the factors most likely to prompt them to embrace the technology.
With investment in industrial mobility surging, it’s a fair bet that businesses may see autonomous technology’s value proposition start to seem more attractive (and proven) sooner rather than later. And, it only stands to reason that some early adopters—and the early-stage companies developing the technology they implement—will score a competitive edge while their peers loiter on the sidelines.
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