12/27/2013 | 1 MINUTE READ

Report: Autonomous Cars Could Save $5.6 Trillion Per Year

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If all vehicles had the ability to guide themselves, they could save the global economy $5.6 trillion per year, according to Morgan Stanley Research.

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If all vehicles had the ability to guide themselves, they could save the global economy $5.6 trillion per year, according to Morgan Stanley Research.

The firm estimates that a shift to all-automated vehicles in the U.S. alone would save about $1.3 trillion annually by lowering fuel consumption ($169 billion), reducing crash costs ($488 billion) and boosting productivity ($645 billion).

The Morgan Stanley study, Autonomous Cars: Self-Driving the New Auto Industry Paradigm, is based primarily on brainstorming sessions with auto industry executives.

The 100-page report points out that virtually all technologies needed to give a car the ability to drive itself exist now. Some, such as adaptive cruise control, are on the road today. Morgan Stanley's bullish forecast estimates that vehicles with complete autonomous capability will reach the market between 2018 and 2022. But the firm says it will take roughly 20 more years for such vehicles to fully replace less-endowed cars in the world's fleet.

The report describes self-driving technology as perfectly suited for vehicles traveling fixed routes. It forecasts that such systems will be adopted faster for cargo hauling and mass transit than for passenger vehicles.

The analysis attempts to quantify how a swing to autonomous vehicles would affect a broad range of markets from software and computer chips to healthcare and car rental services.

Morgan Stanley cautions that its savings estimates are "very rough." The firm also notes that the full savings it forecasts won't be possible until all vehicles, not just some, are capable of driving themselves.