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Canalys: Autonomous driving starts to hit mainstream

by Marco van der Hoeven

According to the latest Canalys research, 3.5 million passenger cars worldwide were sold with level 2* autonomy driving features in Q4 2020, growing 91% year-on-year. Level 2 autonomy driving features were in 30% of new vehicles sold in the US, 20% in Japan, 19% in Europe and 12% in China. For the full-year 2020 11.2 million cars sold with level 2 features, a growth of 78% compared to 2019.

Mainstream car brands drove this growth in autonomous functionality. These included the feature as standard or as an option in more of their cars. “The premium brands have been overtaken by mainstream brands such as Honda and Toyota who now sell the most cars with level 2 driving functionality. They have suites of ADAS (advanced driver assistance system) features, including level 2 driving as standard in most of their popular models. Other leading car makers such as Ford and VW Group have followed,” said Canalys Chief Analyst Chris Jones.

Advanced driver assistance

“The penetration of advanced driver assistance and active safety features in new cars is increasing at a fast rate”, explains Jones. “In the past, carmakers used ADAS and level 2 autonomy as differentiators in new cars, now they are seen as must-have features. But there is still a huge ADAS opportunity as many local popular vehicle types do not yet include level 2 functionality, or it is still a niche feature. These include pick-up trucks in the US, compact cars in Europe, entry-level SUVs/crossovers and city cars in China and Kei cars in Japan. When level 2 driving penetrates these vehicle types, it will be everywhere – then it’s up to the consumer to choose it, and use it.”


“Carmakers must clearly communicate the benefits of level 2 driving features and drivers must use them as intended – these are not self-driving cars. ADAS needs to be easy to use – ideally with one button, well demonstrated at point of sale and its limitations need to be understood (what speed, what type of road, what weather/light conditions, etc). There is no point having a car laden with driver assistance technology, if the features are not used, are turned off, are used recklessly, or if alerts are ignored,” said Sandy Fitzpatrick, VP at Canalys.


“Consumer education and trust in the technology is key for the future success of ADAS, there is a grey area right now between what the typical driver believes these features do, and what they actually can do. The industry must work harder on communication. To add to the complexity for the consumer, car makers have different acronyms for ADAS bundles and use trademarked names for their versions of these technologies for example Ford Co-Pilot 360, Honda Sensing, Nissan ProPilot, Tesla AutoPilot, Toyota Safety Sense, Volvo Pilot Assist, all of which have different ADAS combinations, misleading names, and some have upgraded the capabilities, which adds to consumer confusion.”

*Level 2 autonomy definition

The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) defines levels of driving automation. With level 2, the human driver must always be fully engaged and monitor the environment. Under certain conditions, the vehicle can take control of more than one driving function, such as steering and acceleration/braking, in combination. Includes systems marketed as level 2.5.

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