Self-driving cars aren’t quite available for consumers to purchase yet, but we’re getting close. Fully autonomous vehicles are logging millions of test miles in metropolitan areas all over the country, and there’s a wide range of semi-autonomous vehicles available to purchase. If you’re thinking about the investment potential of a self-driving car, you might be wondering if it’s a smarter investment than a standard vehicle; in other words, if you’re given a choice between a traditional vehicle and an autonomous one, would you ultimately save money by choosing the autonomous one?
The Advantages of a Personal Self-Driving Car
There are a few different ways self-driving cars could become available to the general public, but let’s start with the most straightforward: buying an autonomous vehicle instead of a traditional vehicle, to serve as your personal means of transport.
It’s hard to say how much an autonomous vehicle will cost. Right now, it costs engineers somewhere between $70,000 and $150,000 for all the hardware and software necessary for a single self-driving car, but the cost of that package is estimated to drop to something like $5,000 by 2025. This includes the onboard computer responsible for operating the vehicle as well as all the sensors necessary for that computer to “see.” In other words, buying a self-driving car outright would cost roughly $5,000 more than a comparable traditional vehicle, plus any markups, taxes, and fees.
Once you acquire a self-driving vehicle, you’ll no longer need your current vehicle, so you can trade it in or sell it for cash to offset the costs of the new vehicle. That will reduce the total financial burden of your new purchase, and make it more affordable for millions of people. Some countries, like Australia, are already nurturing more “cash for cars” programs, and we’ll likely see them increase in popularity all over the world as autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles become mainstream.
Next, let’s consider the time you’ll save by not driving. Assuming this vehicle is fully autonomous, you won’t need to take over at any point in the drive, so you can spend the drive doing other things, like working, napping, or reading. Considering this could grant you upwards of several hours of extra productivity or time for self-care every week, you could easily accomplish more tasks and improve your health at the same time. If you use time driving to nap and stay caught up on sleep, you could find yourself getting sick less often, reducing your stress, and lowering your risk for serious health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, ultimately prolonging your lifespan and reducing your medical costs.
There’s also the possibility of collisions to consider. Roughly 94 percent of all auto accidents are directly caused by human error. There’s still not much you can do about that lingering 6 percent of “unpreventable” accidents, and there will always be other drivers to consider, but even if you reduce your chance of a collision by half, you’ll save a ton of money over the long term. Insurance companies will realize these benefits as well; chances are, if you buy a reputable self-driving car, you’ll see a massive drop in your insurance rates, saving you hundreds to thousands of dollars per year.
There are other benefits to consider as well. For example, if you’re driving somewhere with a high cost for parking, you may be able to keep your car automatically circling the area so you can avoid those costs and still have your car on standby. Most new self-driving cars will be equipped with the latest in efficiency standards, so you may end up paying less money for gas. And because autonomous vehicles are considered safer, they may hold a higher resale value than their traditional counterparts.
Relying on the Fleet
It’s also possible that instead of being available for consumers to purchase as individual vehicles, autonomous vehicle manufacturers will focus their efforts on creating fleets of self-driving vehicles to be used like taxis or ridesharing services. If this is the case, you might pay a subscription fee for fixed or unlimited access to these vehicles for all your transportation needs, summoning them as you might summon an Uber or Lyft driver. This would help you forgo the need for regular maintenance, and be an amicable way of sharing your assets with other commuters. This possibility is still in the earliest stages of development, so it’s hard to say exactly what cost advantages this might have over alternative methods of transportation, but it seems promising.
If you assume that publicly available self-driving vehicles will be fully autonomous and safer than comparable human drivers, and you also assume they’re only a few thousand dollars more than their traditional counterparts, it’s almost certain they’ll be a wiser investment. They’ll save you hours of time while keeping you safer, and could even reduce your insurance costs, fuel costs, and maintenance costs over the long term.