Cost and Covid-19 Hit Driverless Investment, Says Bosch

Automakers had already been backing away from investing in higher levels of autonomous technology citing costs as the main barrier to market adoption.

According to automotive supplier giant Bosch, this is now being compounded by growing uncertainty over how the Coronavirus fall-out will affect the ride-sharing, ride-hailing and car-sharing models that many had placed so much hopes in for the future of mobility.

Bosch chairman, Dr Volkmar Denner only spoke of the prospects for autonomous technology during journalists’ questions after delivering a virtual annual press conference statement that did not once mention the company’s comprehensive work in developing the technology for carmaker partners. Denner said: “A lot of partners are suspending investment in to autonomous vehicles preferring to invest in the existing assistance functions and up to Level 2 autonomy. We will have to wait and see until the first Level 3 systems are affordable – that is the real crux of this.”

He stressed that technological solutions are the least of the barriers facing the roll-out of driverless cars to the mass market. Denner explained: “It is technologically feasible but the technology is very sophisticated and we will have to see when prices can be realized that could be the breakthrough. Right now the overall required investment into autonomous driving is still very high but mostly focused on Level 2 and Level 2+ functionality.”

As it stands the prospects for levels of autonomy approaching the ‘Holy Grail’ of full Level 5 robotic vehicles is very questionable. Denner said: “In the past we had two paths here that were strictly separated and I think this explains things better. We have privately owned vehicles at Level 1, Level 2 or the next step Level 2 handsfree, and we see this is working very well assuming vehicles in future will be purchased at all.

“The other path, the highly automated Level 4 and Level 5, with Level 3 in between, all the prices are just too high so that these technologies can only be implemented in the very high end cars – it is not a question of the technology anymore.”

Now the situation has been further exacerbated by questions over how the post-virus society will view its approach to vehicle ownership versus shared mobility solutions. Denner asked: “In Level 4, how does Covid-19 affect future buyers behavior? That is something we can only wonder about because this application in robo-taxis where people get into vehicles they don’t own. Will people do that in the future as just a few months ago they did? This main trend of the share-economy – that is an interesting question we simply cannot answer right now.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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