Chelsie May

Automotive Technology Enthusiast and Trend Seeker

All Roads Lead to…Germany? Meet the New Autonomous Driving Hub

Amid today’s fierce competition in the autonomous vehicle market, several countries are battling for top position. Germany, the autonomous driving hub in Europe, is setting the pace.

Key automotive players such as China, the US, Sweden, the UK, Japan, and Germany are striving to take control of the driverless car market. However, recent research proves that it’s Germany who is defending the leadership position not only in Europe but across the globe.

What gives Germany an edge?

With the US and China implementing partially automated driving functionality into some cars, German OEMs are now providing driving assistance systems in the majority of mass-produced vehicles. Though this helps to strengthen the country’s position as the industry leader, other countries are catching up and intensifying the competition. A range of car manufacturers from South Korea and China have already announced the launch of driverless functionality in some of their vehicles and have revealed plans to push new prototypes on the market. But will it shuffle the key automotive roles?

Probably not, as Germany must still have some aces up its sleeve.

Market share

Germany is a natural European hub to develop autonomous car technology, as it’s home to some of the world’s most powerful OEMs.

Germany is famous for such big names as Audi, BMW, Mercedes (Daimler), and Volkswagen. The automotive sector is one of the most significant industrial sectors in the country.

German OEMs serve all global markets, producing more than 70% of all premium vehicles manufactured worldwide. With €426 billion turnover in 2017, compared to the previous year’s €405 billion and to just $100 billion in the US in 2017, the German automotive industry is the cornerstone of Germany’s economy. Around one million employees work for small and midsized businesses in the automotive sector, as well as for world-known OEMs and global suppliers of different levels.

OEMs strive to deliver automated driving functionality, enhancing the driving experience with each car model and creating an autonomous driving technology hub in Europe. But are consumers ready for such innovations?

Consumer acceptance

According to recent research, 50% of Germans won’t pay extra for vehicles equipped with self-driving features. But focusing on premium brands, the results might differ, as premium brand admirers may be more willing to pay for extra comfort and next-generation driving features.

Numbers for 2018 also show that safety of autonomous vehicles is still the #1 concern preventing consumers from relying on self-driving car technology. This year, 63% of Germans claimed they would use driverless cars if they had an established safety record, compared to 47% in 2017.

One more factor that gives Germany the leading edge is that consumers still favor traditional carmakers when it comes to fully autonomous driving. With a pool of established car manufacturers, the adoption of autonomous vehicles in Germany should be faster as in other countries with self-driving startups or even existing autonomous car technology companies.

Source: Deloitte, 2018 Global Automotive Consumer Study

Government support

Germany was the first country to legalize fully autonomous driving systems. This is helping to strengthen its leading positions in the fields of automated and connected driving.

Until 2017, only a licensed driver was allowed to operate a vehicle. But in December 2016, the government announced its aims to create self-driving infrastructure in Germany. As a result, the parliament introduced an amendment to the German Road Traffic Act that allows drivers to pass off control to a vehicle in June 2017. Today, cars can be fully self-driving, though drivers have to stay alert and be able to grab the steering wheel in an emergency.

Moreover, autonomous car technology companies in Germany recently got the green light to test driverless vehicles on public roadways.

Some cities have even adopted pilot fleets that recreate regular traffic on public roads in isolated areas to test the technology. Berlin has an autonomous shuttle service that works at enclosed areas of The Charité University.

Bavaria is becoming another hub of autonomous vehicle technology, as BMW extends its Research and Innovation Centre and initiates a Digital Product School in Munich. Thomas Zeller, the Centre’s Chief Digital Officer, outlines the program’s aim as “to tackle [the] industry’s challenges with innovative solutions and a customer-focused approach.” Germany uses the A9 autobahn in Bavaria for self-driving vehicle testing and experimenting with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication via 5G networks.

Autonomous vehicle regulation in Germany is also well supported by the ministry for traffic and digital infrastructure. The ministry follows the Automatization and Inter-connection in the area of road traffic strategy and provides millions of euros in subsidies for the development of self-driving solutions. The aim of this strategy is to make Germany the leading supplier for automated and connected vehicles by including more testing fields and roads for testing autonomous driving.

The government plan to adapt the entire country’s infrastructure for fully automated vehicles will widen the gap between Germany and its competitors.

Tech conferences

With a large pool of automotive vendors and suppliers, Germany has become a hotbed for international conferences.

1. TU-Automotive Europe

Held in Munich, TU-Automotive is Europe’s biggest conference gathering thought leaders in the automobility and connected car fields. TU-Automotive is a must-attend event for those who want to be the first to know about trends in autonomous driving combined with disruptive tech.

2. Autonomous Vehicle Software Expo

The Autonomous Vehicle Software Expo takes place in Stuttgart. It showcases the latest level 2 and 3 ADAS innovations and hosts debates on future level 4 and 5 autonomy. The expo also offers technology-packed conferences, including the Autonomous Vehicle Interior Design & Technology Symposium, the Autonomous Vehicle Test & Development Symposium, and the Autonomous Vehicle Software Symposium. Each of these events is worth visiting for anyone working in the autonomous driving field.

3. Automotive Teach.AD Berlin

This is the #1 European event tackling tech challenges for level 4 vehicle automation. Connecting leading autonomous vehicle R&D experts and industry influencers, the conference aims to predict the future of automated driving and define next-gen mobility trends.

Such industry-focused events help to popularize both driverless vehicle technologies and autonomous car technology companies in Germany. At automotive tech conferences, Germany gathers automotive experts from across the globe and attracts new business partners. But with so many automotive initiatives and autonomous driving software projects, how can the country extend its capacity?

Finding the fast lane

Beyond local tech startups and tech heavyweights, Germany is looking for outside resources. While investing in autonomous R&D, the country’s automotive influencers are building partnerships with Eastern European outsourcing companies with solid tech portfolios. German OEMs are pursuing collaborative strategies with businesses in other countries to speed up time to market and reduce operating costs, as outsourcing software development companies working in the automotive sector can drastically increase efficiency of time-consuming functions.

Leading the driverless race

Today, Germany’s main competitors are China, the UK, and the USA, as these countries are working on legislation for self-driving vehicle testing. With Waymo and Tesla trending, dominant German carmakers have no time to relax. They need to improve autonomous driving technology in the years to come to remain competitive.

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