Driverless vehicles predicted to contribute €17 trillion to European economy by 2050, says report

European union flags in front of building
  • Greater productivity, lower congestion and better fuel efficiency set to increase GDP
  • Report suggests government and regulatory actions to address autonomous challenges

New research has forecast that the contribution of autonomous vehicles to the European economy could reach €17 trillion by the year 2050, with their arrival adding 0.15 per cent to Europe’s annual growth rate from 2020.

The report from the Policy Network think tank, commissioned by Nissan Europe, explored both the social and economic opportunities offered by driverless cars. 

The research found that as a result of this contribution, by 2050 driverless cars will have generated a total of €17tn for European GDP, which will be 5.3 per cent higher than it is now.

The additional contribution will come from a combination of factors, found the report, including:

  • Better use of time spent in vehicles and working on the move;
  • Lower road congestion and improved traffic flow; and
  • Greater fuel efficiency.

Autonomous vehicles will also help to tackle social exclusion, said Policy Network, giving more people access to education and work and increasing mobility for those restricted by age, disability or medical conditions.

The think tank’s report – Freeing the Road: Shaping the future for autonomous vehicles – also sets out the key steps that European governments and regulators should consider taking to overcome some of the technological and social challenges raised by autonomous driving.


Autonomous vehicles research: video showing key findings of Policy Network's report


Among its recommendations, the report suggests that governments should seek to:

  • Strike a balance between public concerns about safety and security and the development of technology
  • Harmonise international and national legislation to promote a common European traffic policy
  • Promote the introduction of renewable energy vehicles, featuring electric and hybrid engines
  • Foster the integration of autonomous vehicle technology in the public and private transport sector to create a ‘frictionless’ world of transport.

Autonomous vehicles (AV) have long seemed like something from Tomorrow’s World – a technological development that politicians, regulators and policymakers could put off thinking about until long into the future.

Now, with the first mass market AVs set to roll off the production line, Europe’s policymakers must fast catch up with technological and commercial reality.

AVs not only have the potential to fundamentally reshape Europe’s strategically vital automotive industry; they will change how citizens interact with motor vehicles, transform patterns of connectivity, and offer social and environmental benefits to the whole of society. The future vision is of a driverless, safer and more efficient transport system that will connect individuals and businesses throughout Europe.
— Policy Network, 'Freeing the Road: Shaping the future for autonomous vehicles'

To ensure no one is left out, the report also recommends ensuring universal access to mobility and developing strategies for balancing prices between transport providers.

Paul Willcox, Chairman of Nissan Europe, said: “This independent report highlights that we are in the midst of a social and economic revolution. 

“It shows that autonomous technology will have a fundamental impact not just on the automotive industry but across European economies and societies and it suggests that leadership within all levels of government is needed.

“At Nissan we believe, for the full benefits of autonomous drive technologies to be realised, governments and municipalities across Europe should review the report's findings, work hand in hand with the automotive industry, and play a vital role in ushering in this new technological era,” said Willcox.

What do Europeans think of driverless cars?

Nissan also released the results of a new pan-European consumer survey, conducted to identify what people see as the main benefits of driverless vehicles.

Increased mobility was seen by respondents as one of the biggest advantages of driverless cars, with disabled people (57%), the elderly (34%) and the visually impaired (33%) mentioned as those with most to gain from their arrival.

More than half (52%) of respondents also believe that, following the introduction of driverless cars, a reduction in accidents caused by human error will have the biggest impact on society. This was followed by 43% who believed that driverless cars would remove unsafe drivers from the road and 34% who felt their arrival would mean fewer drunk-drivers. 

Respondents also saw multiple health and well-being benefits from driverless cars. The top health benefits identified by those questioned (56%) were fewer car accidents and lower stress levels. Others envisaged fewer hit-and-run accidents (39%) and more free time (30%). 

When it comes to driving behaviour, four out of five respondents (81%) admitted to having multi-tasked while driving. The ability to do something other than driving was therefore unsurprisingly seen as the main lifestyle benefit of autonomous cars.

Nissan Futures autonomous driving infographic

Nissan Futures autonomous driving infographic

What will people do in driverless cars?

Questioned on how they would spend their extra free time in a driverless car, respondents said that they would read books or catch up on news (37%), sleep (33%), work (30%) and watch TV or films (20%).

In a similar survey carried out on behalf of Ford recently, four out of five respondents said that they planned to relax and enjoy the scenery when travelling in a driverless car.

Additionally, in a potential boost for the driverless industry, one in four of those surveyed by Nissan (23%) who plan to buy a car in five or more years say that they would consider buying an autonomous one.

Not everyone has been won over by the prospect of driverless cars, however, with 48% of respondents saying their biggest disadvantage was potential technology failure, followed by not having full control of the vehicle (39%) and the risk of putting people such as taxi drivers out of a job (28%).

“What's clear from the research published today is that political decisions makers across Europe need to prioritise autonomous vehicle policies to create a favorable environment that will see this technology flourish,” said Willcox. 

“The customers want it, and are starting to see the benefits of an autonomous future, but we need the right legislative environment to enable this exciting new era of mobility to thrive.

“We strongly advocate that policy makers continue to work collaboratively with industry, so that together we can ensure that the many social and economic benefits highlighted today are made a reality in Europe.”