Is Canada ready for autonomous vehicles?

In 2019, we ranked lower in terms of readiness than we did last year, which means there are some areas we will need to improve on

How ready are we, as a nation, for autonomous vehicles?

According to a recent report entitled 2019 Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index, published by KPMG International, Canada ranks 12th in the world in terms of our capacity to adopt and accommodate this seemingly inevitable technological disruption.

While 12th might not seem bad on the world scale, consider that Canada ranked seventh in the same assessment just a year ago.

Here’s the story on the study and where our strengths and weaknesses lie, as well as why other countries are better prepared than we are.

On that latter point, KPMG considers the Netherlands to be the readiest for adoption of autonomous vehicles (AVs). The country scored 25.05 points on KPMG’s Readiness Index scale.

It was followed closely by Singapore (24.32), Norway (23.75), the USA (22.58), Sweden (22.48), Finland (24.28), the U.K. (21.58), Germany (21.15), United Arab Emirates (20.69), Japan (20.53), New Zealand (19.87), and Canada (19.80).

To arrive at those scores, each of the 25 countries in the study were assessed on 25 different measures, divided into four equally-weighted data-sets or “pillars”: Policy and Legislation, Technology and Innovation, Infrastructure, and Consumer Acceptance.

Canada ranked seventh in terms of Policy and Legislation, one step above the U.S., but well behind Singapore, the U.K, and New Zealand, which topped the rankings in that pillar. We ranked top among all other countries in the number of government-funded AV pilots, but fared poorly in terms of the efficiency of the legal system in challenging regulations.

Israel was the clear leader in terms of Technology and Innovation, with top scores for industry partnerships, AV company headquarters, and AV investments, all adjusted for population. Canada tied with Israel, as well as Germany and the U.S. for top rank in industry partnerships, but fell well behind in most other data subsets, particularly in terms of market share of electric cars. While the relevance of that metric may be debatable, it does seem that many AV developments are being conjoined with electric drive.

Since this study was completed, there has also been the announcement of the Ottawa L5 test facility for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) in the Ottawa region, with funding from Invest Ottawa, the Government of Ontario, and other strategic partners.

Canada’s poorest pillar ranking was related to infrastructure readiness, where it came in 16th — in large part because of its low number of EV charging stations. Again, the significance of that metric may be questionable, given that AVs don’t necessarily have to be EVs. More importantly, however, we did not fare well in what KPMG called its Change Readiness Infrastructure Score, tyingfor 20th out of 25.

As for the all-important Consumer Acceptance factor, Canada ranked 11th, well behind top-scoring India and even the U.S. That said, we outscored the U.S. in terms of Consumer Survey Data on AV acceptance, but fell well short on Ridesharing Market Penetration, which was an equally-weighted metric.

Overall, Canada’s main strengths on AVs are the high quality of its existing workforce, with Ontario allowing tests of fully driverless vehicles, and strong leadership from different levels of government that see their potential benefits, according to Colin Earp, National Transport Lead, KPMG in Canada.

“There’s this real feeling that transport drives not just economic productivity, it drives social equity and commercial activity. In that respect, you’re seeing civic, provincial and national leaders really begin to create an inclusive and collaborative culture to drive better transportation in the future, including AVs,” he said.

Earp cited Ontario’s lifting of some regulations on AVs from January 2019 — meaning that driverless vehicles can be tested on its roads, in addition to its 10-year Automated Vehicle Pilot Program that was started in 2016 — as positive developments. So too is the collaboration between Canadian technology company BlackBerry and the University of Waterloo, and the establishment of the province’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and an Automotive Supplier Competitiveness Improvement Program, which provides matched funding for innovation by smaller suppliers.

Since this study was completed, there has also been the announcement of the Ottawa L5 test facility for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) in the Ottawa region, with funding from Invest Ottawa, the Government of Ontario, and other strategic partners. General Motors has also revealed plans for an AV test track at its Oshawa assembly plant facility, which was previously set to be shutdown.

All good stuff, but the country’s large size and remote locations may stretch AV infrastructure, KPMG notes.

Specific challenges include designing systems that work in remote areas and urban environments, as well as the work needed on exporting and international partnerships. And while Canada does relatively well in terms of government and industry involvement, it still ranks low on 4G coverage.

There’s still a ways to go before we can all give up the steering wheel.

About Gerry Malloy

Gerry Malloy is one of Canada's best known, award-winning automotive journalists.

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