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Published on August 7th, 2017 | by James Ayre


Magna CEO Says Auto Industry Is Overly Optimistic About EVs & Self-Driving Cars … In Public

August 7th, 2017 by  

While the outward consensus of the auto industry now seems to be that a wide rollout of self-driving vehicles and electric cars is inevitable, even if projected timelines vary somewhat, there are still some people out there who remain skeptical.

Amongst those skeptics is Magna International CEO Don Walker, who recently commented that he thought the primary reason that auto companies were publicly talking so much about electric vehicles (EVs) and self-driving cars was simply PR, and the desire to be seen as “progressive.” Privately, according to Walker, the auto companies are far more bearish about the growth timelines for the just mentioned technologies — as Walker himself is.

This would make sense — it’s been clear for a while now that there’s quite a gap between what most auto companies publicly say they believe about EVs (and self-driving cars) and what they are actually doing and have done to date.

Walker was quoted as saying: “I am going to get criticized by a lot of people who say I don’t know what is going on. … Quite frankly, auto companies can’t tell publicly what they really believe. They know what’s going to happen, but they have to say what is going to be popular to be perceived as a progressive company.

“We’ve got a lot of feedback from many of the car companies, and they actually believe this to be right.”

To be more specific here, Walker stated that expectations that EVs would account for as much as 25% of new vehicle sales by 2025 weren’t realistic. A more realistic estimate, according to Walker, is 3–6% — the higher end of that estimate being reliant upon fast growth in China’s market over the coming years.

With regard to self-driving vehicles, Automotive News provides more: “He also said the race to autonomous driving is getting oversold. Automakers will continue introducing technologies that enable vehicles to drive themselves, but don’t expect Level 5 autonomous vehicles for at least another decade, he said.

“’A full autonomous vehicle is a long way off for lots of reasons, because of legislation, class-action lawsuits, all the complexities and the costs associated with it,’ Walker said.

“… Vehicles with no autonomous features will still account for 17 percent of new-vehicle sales in eight years, while those with level 1, 2, or 3 autonomy, which still require human involvement, will account for 79 percent of the fleet in 2025. Vehicles with Level 4 autonomy, which can drive themselves without human intervention, will account for just 4 percent, Walker predicted.”

That actually sounds pretty realistic to me … though, a wildcard is the possibility of the rapid deployment of self-driving taxis. (This is despite Walker’s claim that there will be no Level 5 cars available by 2025, which I’m skeptical of.)

A similar situation holds true with EVs — if a large city such as London were to greatly increase its support of EVs (through incentives), then adoption rates could climb rapidly, allowing for a much faster rate of adoption than Walker predicts.

All of that said, Magna is apparently expecting to double its annual autonomous-related components and technologies sales by 2020, to $1 billion from around $450 million now.


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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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