Russians May Smile on AVs But Roads Aren’t Ready

Autonomous vehicles may have a few technocrat fans in Russia yet the nation is clearly not leading the way in being ready for the technology.

In the 2019 edition of KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI), Russia is in the bottom of the top – 22nd of 25 monitored countries. While many in the country are proud just to be in the rankings, KPMG Moscow’s associate director Vadim Toporov argues that it might be better.

Speaking to TU-Automotive, Toporov said he had enthusiastically forecasted last year that the country would go up in the rankings in a short time, based upon underestimated potential of regional technological advancements and “influence of many subtle changes”. A year passed by and Russia’s score has risen slightly for 7.09 to 8.55, as assessed by four ‘pillars’: technology and innovation, policy and legislation, infrastructure and customer acceptance. Neither too bad, nor a breakthrough. The country went down to the 22nd position mainly for external reasons such as five new highly developed states were added to the list while Brazil was given a dramatically worse score in 2019. Among the original 2018 edition’s 20 countries, Russia is now the 17th. As a whole, things didn’t change much.

However, a closer look reveals a series of positive and negative changes. For a start, the country rolled down from the 20th to the 24th position for technology and innovation. Indicators of the availability of the latest technology fell sharply from modest 4.223 to a shocking 0.000 and capacity for innovation from 3.767 to 0.180.

According to Toporov, the reason for that was the lack of direct measurings of the market: “Both parameters were obtained not from a dedicated research but from calculations based upon the World Economic Forum’s Global Indexes.”

Data availability is still a major problem when analyzing state of affairs in autonomous transport. In the absence of systematic statistical monitoring of AV-related industries, the analysts have to base assessments on indirect parameters like the aforementioned WEF’s Global Indexes as well as subjective judgements by business executives in each country. Toporov believes that the sharp drop of the score does not mirror the reality: “Personally, I keep believing that there’s room for Russia’s technological level to grow steeply.”

Was it right that the KPMG analysts put Russia higher in the rankings than India and Mexico? Looking at the global automakers and their suppliers, they gravitate towards those two countries with more manufacturing and engineering activities. India and Mexico also have better quality of roads and 4G coverage. How could Russia ever surpass them in AV preparedness? Toporov supports KPMG’s conclusions saying that: “The government’s active position helps.”

Policy was the most advanced Russia’s AVRI pillar in 2018 – the seventeenth position – and much of the the last year’s progress is tied to achievements in the legislative area, including legalization of self-driving vehicles tests in public roads.

Another reason for Russia’s rising rating was a remarkable change in consumer acceptance. Most Russians are now feeling incredibly positive about AVs with acceptance by surveys skyrocketing from 0.56 to 0.866 in a year’s time. However, the optimism could be unsustainable – Russia scored 0.000 on the percent of population living in test areas. Toporov agrees that with Russians “we’re witnessing a kind of love-from-distance”. AVs are now allowed on to the public roads and word of mouth will spread the news about their flaws and interest may cool. By how much down? Toporov: “I think we can base on the leading countries’ cases.” Surveys conducted in   and the   in 2018 serve as good examples showing a double-digit deflation of trust compared to 2017.

Toporov admits that last year he was too optimistic to proclaim an upcoming breakthrough. He now is cautiously saying that Russia’s final score will inevitably grow because some irreversable changes are under way including public tests and the legislative process. Customer enthusiasm is likely to stay unchanged or even slightly go down; the technological environment and infrastructure are expected to improve in a small degree.

“The question is, how fast the other countries will run,” the expert reveals his worries. With 3.5 points separating Russia from Hungary, the 21st country in the rating, and only 0.8 points from Mexico, the 23rd country, it’s easier to lose than overtake a position. Also don’t forget the sanctions from the West: “We’re being assured by the authorities that it influences not but it certainly narrows the spectre of available partners, investment sources, and industrial ties.”

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