Fourth Industrial Revolution

How long until we're driving electric cars?

A sensor is seen spinning atop a Google self-driving vehicle Image: A sensor is seen spinning atop a Google self-driving vehicle. REUTERS/Stephen Lam.

Rosamond Hutt
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Fourth Industrial Revolution

The car industry is at the start of a revolution that is being driven by the convergence of connectivity, electrification and changing customer needs.

The dramatic changes happening within the industry are part of the wider Fourth Industrial Revolution – this year’s Davos theme – a transformation that is bringing together technological developments in a broad range of fields including artificial intelligence, the internet of things, genomics and 3D printing.

Mary Barra, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors Company, said the revolution in the car industry was allowing automakers like GM to develop much cleaner, safer, smarter and more energy-efficient vehicles for customers around the world.

“We believe these changes are as important as when we transitioned from horses to horse power,” she said.


For the past century the car industry has relied on vehicles that are “stand-alone”, mechanically controlled and run on petrol.

The world is now beginning to switch to cars that are interconnected, electronically controlled and fueled by a range of energy sources, she said.

“I believe the auto industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50, and this gives us the opportunity to make cars more capable, more sustainable and more exciting than ever before,” she added.

Breakthroughs in battery technology have helped to speed up the development of electric cars. Electrification is also improving vehicle safety with the introduction of intelligent technologies such as collision warning systems and automatic braking.

How tech is driving the car industry

The auto industry is also being reshaped by the increasing interest of tech giants.

In an interview with the BBC, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, said that tech companies would probably be able to make “compelling” electric cars. The entrepreneur also suggested that Apple was working on its own electric car.

“It seems like the obvious thing to do,” he said.

Mr Musk has predicted the world will switch over to self-driving cars entirely.

"In the long term, nobody will buy a car unless it's autonomous," he told the BBC.

"Owning a car that is not self-driving in the long term will be like owning a horse - you would own it and use it for sentimental reasons but not for daily use."

Fully autonomous vehicles are unlikely to be commercially available before 2020, according to research by McKinsey.

However, once technical and regulatory issues have been resolved, up to 15% of new cars sold in 2030 could be fully self driving, the consulting firm predicts.



A global survey carried out by the World Economic Forum in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group found many people are open to trying self-driving cars.

More than half (58%) of respondents say they would be prepared to take a ride in a fully self-driving vehicle.


The Annual Meeting is taking place in Davos from 20-23 January, under the theme “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Author: Rosamond Hutt is a Senior Producer at Formative Content.

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Related topics:
Fourth Industrial RevolutionDavos Agenda
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