With the advent of revolutionary new technologies, the transportation industry was predicted to dramatically transform before our eyes. If you believed the hype from recent years, you might expect cities to soon be filled with fleets of self-driving robo-taxis, autonomous trucks, delivery robots, and electric cars and buses.
While some of these developments seem to have slipped a bit further over the horizon, others have taken on a heightened sense of importance and possibility. Read on to learn about five disruptive transportation industry trends to watch in the coming years — and decades — based on the latest market research reports.
1. A Shift Toward Electric Vehicles
One of the most significant trends gaining momentum in the transportation industry is the rise of electric vehicles (EVs). As concerns about climate change and air pollution continue to grow, many consumers are looking for more sustainable transportation options. In response, automakers are investing heavily in EV technology, with many introducing new models and expanding their EV lineups.
For example, Ford announced plans to invest $50 billion in electric vehicles, with EVs increasing to one-third of its yearly global production by 2026, and reaching 50% of its total volume by 2030. The move is viewed as an attempt to keep closer pace with Tesla, which registered 40% year-over-year growth in vehicle deliveries in 2022.
The global market for hybrid and electric vehicles is expected to rise 22% per year through 2026, almost tripling to 30.5 million units, according to the report Global Hybrid & Electric Vehicles by The Freedonia Group. “Sales rose dramatically in 2021 in spite of an overall weak environment for the global automotive industry, and rapid advances are expected to continue as governments worldwide provide expanded regulatory support for the adoption of EVs,” the report stated.
2. Growing Demand for Alternative Fuel Buses
Environmental concerns will also lead more countries to transition away from diesel and gasoline buses in favor of electric and hybrid buses.
Due to their long hours of operation, transit buses that run on conventional fuel can be a significant source of air pollution. “To limit emissions, governments will turn to models that run on electricity and natural gas,” according to the report Global Buses by The Freedonia Group. “These alternative fuel types are increasingly available globally and have become more affordable, making them attainable for budget-strapped agencies tasked with managing public transportation.”
Through 2026, the demand for hybrid and electric buses is expected to rise at the fastest rate of any fuel type. Hybrid and electric models offer many key benefits; they are more fuel efficient and less expensive to operate than conventional models, have significantly lower maintenance costs, run more quietly, and are supported by a variety of government initiatives around the world.
The city of Shenzhen in China has replaced all of its diesel buses with electric buses, while cities like London and Paris are also investing in electric buses.
3. Self-Driving Cars Face Reality Check
Autonomous vehicles (Avs) were once hailed as the next disruptive technology poised to radically change our world, but recent headlines have been much less optimistic. After Ford announced that it would be shutting down the autonomous vehicle unit Argo AI, TechCrunch declared, “It’s Time to Admit Self-Driving Cars Aren’t Going to Happen,” while Edmunds.com flatly stated, “Self-Driving Cars Are Still a Pipe Dream.”
So what’s going on here? “Creating vehicles that can safely drive themselves with no oversight from humans has proven to be incredibly difficult,” according to GlobalData’s report Autonomous Vehicles – Thematic Research. “The complexity has pushed back optimistic deadlines for the deployment of higher-level AVs — expected to form the basis of highly profitable ‘robotaxi’ networks — leading to pressure within the sector as companies burn through capital with little to show for their efforts.”
Looking ahead, market analysts expect regulations governing AVs to tighten. In a challenging market environment, automakers may choose to focus on projects that produce a more reliable ROI.
4. Autonomous Trucking Still Decades Away
Another highly anticipated trend was the development of fully autonomous trucks, which would circumvent the problem of driver shortages, reduce the cost of long and regional haul operations, and allow for a continuous flow of commodities.
Analysts at Frost & Sullivan believe that autonomous trucks are “sure to transform the trucking industry, but by when and starting where remain questions,” according to the report Market Potential for Level 4 Autonomous Trucks in the United States.
Although autonomous trucks offer huge revenue potential, the trucking industry is still decades away from implementing this disruptive technology. The Frost & Sullivan report predicts that by 2040, “autonomous trucking adoption will have been growing rapidly and could become the mainstream trucking model thereafter.” Only 0.2% of total US freight is expected to be moved by autonomous trucks in 2028, but that number could grow to 22.3% by 2040.
5. Last Mile Delivery Robots Under Development
Last mile delivery robots have also been pitched as a technological solution for lowering transportation costs, combating pollution, and overcoming worker shortages.
Researchers have created prototypes of delivery robots that can go up and down stairs and travel at speeds of 12 miles per hour. Amazon started testing an autonomous delivery vehicle named Scout in 2019 but paused the project in 2022 when faced with a period of slower sales growth following the pandemic. Alibaba has also begun testing the technology and launched autonomous robots in more than 400 universities in China to deliver parcels for Singles Day.
The global market for autonomous last mile delivery market was an estimated $1 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $3.3 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.2%, according to the report Autonomous Last Mile Delivery by Global Industry Analysts.
Future Trends in the Transportation Industry
The transportation industry faces significant changes, with several near-term and long-term technological developments underway. Companies that can adapt to these trends and anticipate future changes will be better positioned to succeed in this dynamic and rapidly evolving market.
Additional Transportation Industry Analysis
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Search the latest transportation market research reports from leading market research firms such as The Freedonia Group, Frost & Sullivan, GlobalData, Global Industry Analysts, IBISWorld, and many more. Find expert information on market size, market forecasts, market share, disruptive trends, opportunities, challenges, and leading companies.
About the author: Sarah Schmidt is a Managing Editor at MarketResearch.com, a leading provider of global market intelligence products and services.