Young will spearhead Brazilian driverless revolution

Are Brazilians ready to let go control of their cars? That’s a key question when we talk about vehicle autonomy in Latin America’s most populous country and home to the world’s sixth largest car market. Especially when we take into account that owning a car means one step up in social status. Just like their dramatic soap operas, yielding the control of a car can mean giving up on your dream.

It seems clear that many Brazilians will be heartbroken at some point in the future and the younger generation is to blame for that.

“We are already seeing movements in that direction,” says Yeswant Abhimanyu, programme manager for Latin America at Frost & Sullivan. The simple fact that Brazilians are already using autonomy features at some level “is a very big step”.

ADAS features such as automatic parking systems, blind spot detection, collision warning and adaptive cruise control, considered autonomy levels zero and 1, have been available in the Brazilian market for a few years. Autonomous breaking, a level 2 feature, also, but it’s not as reliable, specialists say. And more and more, those devices become an option for middle-ranged and even some base priced cars.

At the moment, and in the near- to medium-term, the primary demand is for autonomous devices that release some anxiety from the driver. A 30km drive to the international airport could take as long as four hours. Plans for a day at the beach could be discarded when a 100km ride lasting over six hours, consuming the biggest chunk of the day. 

Heavy traffic in Brazilian cities means often 90% of the time the driver spends in the car is not for pleasure, highlights Marcelo Cioffi, partner and automotive industry leader at Price Waterhouse Cooper (PwC) in Brazil. “It’s not an economical issue only, it’s also about productivity.”

And that’s how consumer behaviour has been changing. Cioffi recalls researches have shown that the young generation in Europe and the US are not passionate for cars as much as their parents and grandparents were. They are now just as interested in travelling, smartphone technology and home automation or, sometimes, even more so. Brazilians behave similarly, he says. The next generation of Brazilian drivers won’t idolise cars like their parents who were “born in them”.

“They won’t adore driving but they want to get to B from A in the shortest time,” says Delmiro Paes, head of engineering at Semcon, an international technology company working in engineering services and product information. Even better is if this multitask generation can use the commuting time for something else.


“As soon as consumers don’t see the car as a hobby but as mode of transport, they are more likely to want autonomous vehicles,” says Cioffi. Tech-savvy Brazilians integrate technologies in their lives quickly when they are available. It’s a consumption country with high sales potential. Take Uber for example.

After a war-like dispute with irate taxi drivers, Brazilian mayors succumbed to their electorate calls and allowed the use of Uber and other ride-hailing apps. That happened less than a year ago and Uber already sees Brazil taking Mexico’s crown as the largest user in Latin America this year, according to a Bloomberg report citing the company’s regional general manager for Latin America, Rodrigo Arevalo.

Infrastructure and regulation

From one side, specialists believe the Brazilian government won’t have to foster demand for autonomy driving and consumption is naturally posed to be large. But its use depends on public infrastructure investments and efforts to approve new regulations that will change the economic order.

When autonomous vehicles become widely available in the market, people tend to buy less cars and share them. In a country where the automotive industry represents about 5% of the gross domestic product (GDP), changing the status quo can be a tough task for the government and the population itself.

“Adjusting the whole system is much more difficult than the technology itself,” says Flavio Sakai, automotive sales and marketing senior director at Harman in Brazil. “There will be a large social and economic impact. People will have to move to other working segments, many will fear losing their jobs. It’s a change that affects large part of the population.”

Tax and cost benefits

Brazil holds a federal tech innovation incentive programme in which vehicle makers and their suppliers benefit from lower taxes and tax credits when developing technology in the country. The goal of Inovar Auto, as it’s called, is to reduce imports, develop local suppliers and ultimately foster competitiveness. It could also make up for part of the losses in the automotive industry.

That was one attraction for Semcon to start a development project in Brazil in partnership with an automaker. By moving parts of the project to Brazil, the customer gains from lower taxes. “In this way we are helping to reduce the customer´s costs while providing additional expertise,” said Markus Granlund, Semcon’s president and CEO, at the time of the release of the project late last year.

By developing technology locally, automakers, suppliers and technology companies tend to use the environment in which they are to test the device.

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