Asia may be the real global market for autonomous cars

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Autonomous cars ASiaAmerican and European companies are making big investments in autonomous driving technology, but the biggest markets for autonomous vehicles may end up being in Asia.

That is what is suggested by research compiled by Ford’s global trends and futuring manager, Sheryl Connelly, who examines broad, major business and consumer trends around the world.

Connelly said in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday that consumers in India and China appear to be far more open to the idea of owning a self-driving car than Americans or Britons.

Ford’s research has found that 84 percent of Indians and 78 percent of Chinese could see themselves owning an autonomous car, compared with only 40 percent of Americans and 30 percent of Britons, Connelly said.

Those numbers suggest the biggest markets for autonomy and its benefits may be in the massive megacities of the developing world, such as Beijing and Delhi. The density of these cities — and the difficulty of getting around — contribute to the sentiment.

“For some people in Beijing, a commute can run up to five hours total,” said Connelly.

Apart from that, both India and China are somewhat newer to cars and driving than Europe and the U.S., Connelly said. As a result, people from those countries are less likely to have entrenched attitudes about driving compared with countries like the U.S. with strong, legacy car cultures.

Ford plans to achieve level 5 autonomy — a fully self-driving car — by 2021. A number of automakers are investing in the technology though, and not all of them auto manufacturers. Ride-hailing services such as Uber have been pouring money into autonomy, as have tech companies such as Google.

Tesla is already producing cars outfitted with the hardware for full autonomy, and Tesla Chairman and CEO Elon Musk has said the company plans to demonstrate a car driving itself across the United States by 2018.

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