The race is on for autonomous driving and electric mobility

20 December 2023 Consultancy-me.com 5 min. read

As autonomous and electric mobility gain momentum worldwide, the GCC is rising as a global contender. Achraf Joumaa, Principal at Arthur D. Little, outlines how the UAE and Saudi Arabia are making an impact on the arena of future of mobility and rolling out strategies to develop the transport of tomorrow.

Not long ago, self-driving vehicles, delivery by robot, and electric cars were the work of Hollywood producers and childhood imagination, not of real-world experts at the forefront of innovation.

But times have changed, and in the realm of technology, change happens fast. In recent years, phenomenal advancements in science, technology, and government aspirations have not just brought us a step closer to autonomous travel and e-mobility, they have fired up the engines of a journey that could fundamentally change the way we get around.

The race is on for autonomous driving and electric mobility

Autonomous travel

Admittedly, autonomous mobility has endured a shaky few years, with harsh market realities stemming from a combination of Covid-19, slow implementation of related technologies, and semiconductor shortages. But bullish financial forecasts and several predictions envisage a global market value running into the trillions of dollars by the dawn of the next decade.

What’s more, autonomous vehicles (AV) are already on the road – so much so, that key industry players foresee commercialization of the service by 2024, with forecasts predicting near-to-full automation (level 5) by 2035, according to Arthur D. Little research.

Globally, autonomous mobility maturity is still at its early stages. Yet, while jurisdictions like the US, EU, China, and Singapore are leading in AV market readiness, GCC countries are presenting themselves as very strong contenders. And if there’s one thing the Middle East does well, it is rise to a challenge.

In a matter of decades, the GCC states have engineered unprecedented economic transformation, creating infrastructure and services that are not just world class, but world pioneering. Now, with a raft of AV use cases starting to emerge, there is every chance that the same will apply to autonomous mobility.

The UAE has been at the forefront of the region’s autonomous mobility drive for several years, with the Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy aiming to transform 25% of the city’s total transportation to autonomous mode by 2030. Already, three editions of the Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport have taken place, and the emirate plans to launch a robo-taxi cruise vehicle in December this year, followed by an aerial taxi in early 2026.

Saudi Arabia is also making significant headway and its future trajectory is pivoting well, setting the kingdom on course to play a leading role on the global stage.

As part of national aspirations for the land transport sector, strategic initiatives are being contemplated to leapfrog ahead of other countries, and the Saudi cities of the future have been designed with autonomy in mind, with volocopters, robo-taxis, and autonomous pods all in the mix.

Further readingOmaimah Bamasag (TGA) on Saudi's autonomous vehicles drive.

E-mobility

Alongside autonomous vehicles, electrification is a fundamental element in the evolution of mobility, and in the context of global net-zero commitments and the fight against climate change, e-mobility is rising to the top of government and corporate agendas worldwide.

Against this backdrop, Arthur D. Little has conducted the Global Electric Mobility Readiness Index 2023, which measures the e-mobility readiness of 35 countries, and their progress to date.

The study handed the UAE and KSA the 7th and 23rd spot respectively, in a list of countries that features most of the G20, including the US, China, Norway, and Australia, among other nations. The study also highlights the UAE and KSA as major emerging electric vehicle (EV) markets.

Arthur D. Little analysis identifies several factors that can influence the pace of EV adoption. In any given country, these include the date of commencement of the mobility strategy, average citizen income, government incentives, and charging infrastructure development. In higher income nations, a robust charging network and financial incentives are vital, while the environmental benefits of EVs, especially when paired with renewable electricity, further sway consumer choices.

For their part, lower-income countries may initially require subsidies to make EVs more affordable.

On the topic of cost, EVs will become increasingly cost-competitive as technology progresses, driving their adoption. Meanwhile, the inclusion of MENA and Southeast Asian countries in the Global Electric Mobility Readiness Index 2023 demonstrates a shift towards EVs for economic diversification, with governments promoting sustainable transport, boosting public confidence in EV technology and its environmental benefits.

The race is on

Wherever a country stands on the road to autonomous mobility and electrification, one thing is clear: the global race is on. Electric and self-driving vehicles are no longer abstract ideas; they have moved far beyond blue sky thinking to become tangible reality on roads and highways across the globe.

With the technology and vision firmly in place, the GCC countries are now building momentum, developing the partnerships, infrastructure, and regulations that will allow for full scale EV and AV commercialization and shape the future of transportation for generations to come.