Louis Pasteur noted that fortune favors the prepared mind in 1854, but he may as well have been commenting on today’s race toward autonomous technology.
The coming sea change of self-driving cars will turn a century-old model of transportation on its head, creating an entirely new economic sector and touching nearly every aspect of society, from where we’ll live to how many of us may die. And while the revolution will be particularly impactful in auto-centric America, the effect will take place on a truly global scale.
Swift adaptation to such sweeping change will be especially advantageous with so much at stake, and the countries most ready for it will be able to not just ride the wave but also benefit tremendously from its momentum.
Some of those most well-positioned to lead the world through that transition were recently examined by the Swiss research firm KPMG International and ranked on their potentialto come out ahead.
The group compiled a list of the top global leaders in the autonomous race based on their economic prowess and current progress toward development of self-driving vehicles, then measured each country on how much policy and legislation has been written; technology and innovation has been fostered; infrastructure has been built; and consumer acceptance has been cultivated.
And the country that came out on top may come as a surprise.
And the Winner Is…
Despite America’s nurturing the birth of autonomous cars, the country was denied the top spot in the survey.
That honor went, instead, to the Netherlands.
The northwestern European nation was noted for its enthusiasm about the technology—if not its proficiency in producing it—but it received especially high praise for its efficient infrastructure system, which could be easily adapted to take on driver-free autos.
Among other benefits, the country’s well-used and maintained network of roadways were pointed out, as well as the 26,789 publicly available electric vehicle charging points running along it—comprising the world’s highest density of power stations.
The Netherlands sports the world’s highest density of electric vehicle charging stations.
The Netherlands also received the maximum score for government interest in the technology, with the report’s authors noting its heavy investments in connected infrastructure and self-driving trucks, along with an early push for European Union legislation that would speed the development of the vehicles.
While such support for the technology was far lower among Dutch citizens, the report ascribed the discrepancy to the idea that roads are so good, many likely don’t want to see any changes made to them at all. Still, the Dutch public has already shown the capacity to embrace alternative transportation options: the country had the highest percentage by far of electric vehicles on the road compared to others in the rankings, with 6% of all cars there utilizing battery power.
As for the Stars and Stripes, they ranked a respectable third in the Top 20 list, thanks largely in part to the explosion of innovation coming from Silicon Valley and Detroit.
America is home to more autonomous car-related companies and research hubs than any other country in the world, with 163 industry headquarters located across the States. (Runner-up Germany tops out at 22.)
With so much action taking place on the ground, the country has attracted a huge amount of economic interest in its autonomous projects, as well, including large investments from companies like Toyota to help build the $110 million American Center for Mobility in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where automakers from around the globe test their self-driving models.
America also boasts more autonomous vehicle testing sites than anywhere else in the world, with 23 locations, although the low percentage of population living within those testing zones hurt the country’s overall ranking.
Still, despite the willingness to forge ahead with bringing the cars to the roads, there are few clear rules dictating how, exactly, companies can do so. A patchwork of state laws, current lack of federal regulations, and recent transition of presidential administrations—and with it, changes to key official recommendations—muddy the legal waters significantly. The issue could lead to an overall lag time in adopting the technology, according to the report.
The country was also tagged for its failing infrastructure, including the poorer quality of its roads and its lack of electric vehicle charging stations. Still, America led the way when it came to digital infrastructure, an important aspect in allowing self-piloted vehicles to freely communicate with each other—and the world around them.
All the Rest
Separating America from the Netherlands in the official rankings is Singapore, which took home top marks for both legislation and policy development and consumer acceptance of the technology and placed second for infrastructure. (The Asian nation was not as well-served by its technological innovation, for which it landed in eighth place overall.)
Rounding out the top five are Sweden and the United Kingdom, with Germany, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, and South Korea comprising the rest of the top 10.
Making up the list’s lower half are Japan, Austria, France, Australia, Spain, China, Brazil, Russia, Mexico, and India.
Complete rankings, detailed breakdowns of each country’s strong suits and shortcomings, and more information on how the research was compiled and conducted can be found in the official survey report.