Why The Netherlands is the globe's top location for self-driving cars

06 June 2018 Consultancy.eu 7 min. read

The Netherlands is according to international research the country in the best position to adopt self-driving cars. Holland’s top position follows from the country’s well-maintained road network, the quality of its digital infrastructure, and government policy that facilitates the large-scale testing of self-driving cars and trucks.

Once the story of science fiction, autonomous vehicles are now being piloted in a number of countries and driving on public roads – albeit in a handful of locations like Phoenix Arizona in the US, and Singapore. The pace of Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology development is rapid; it’s rare for a week to pass by without a major manufacturer, city, or region announcing a new AV product alliance, trial, or investment.
It’s now just a question of ‘how long?’ before all road vehicles are fully autonomous. One estimate, by Strategy&, forecasts that autonomous vehicles could drive half of all kilometres travelled in the European Union by 2030. The spread of self-driving vehicles has the potential to not only radically change personal transportation, but also the way people live and work around the world. 
In an analysis on the best countries positioned to capitalise on the autonomous vehicle boom, KPMG assessed the market conditions in twenty different countries, including the US, UK, China, Japan, and Germany. The researchers looked at four key influencing factors: government policy and legislation, infrastructure quality, the degree to which the new technology is present in the country, and consumer acceptance of AV technology. 

The Netherlands

Top of table is not one of the globe’s superpowers, but the Netherlands, which performs strongly across all four pillars of research, as well as enjoying high engagement of both private and public sectors on the issue. It is already a big user of electric vehicles, while also boasting excellent infrastructure and a government determined to take advantage of autonomous driving.

How countries score on readiness for self-driving cars

The largest of the three Benelux states – the other being Belgium and Luxembourg – is the clear leader in KPMG’s ‘Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index’. It is within the top four of each of the four pillars and ranked number one on infrastructure, most likely due to its heavily-used and well-maintained road network – rated as one of the world’s best by the World Economic Forum and the World Bank. Holland also has by far the highest density of electrical vehicle charging points, with 26,789 publicly-available points in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency’s Global EV Outlook — more than Japan has for a road network over eight times the length.

The Netherlands also has high-quality wireless internet networks. The report’s authors describe the country’s technology infrastructure for mobility services as “great”, with three-quarters of its population living in areas suitable for AV. The plaudit follows just months after the World Economic Forum named the Netherlands the top performer in its ‘Technology Readiness Index’. In the ‘consumer acceptance’ pillar of the research, the Netherlands comes second only to Singapore.

On policy and legislation, the Netherlands received the maximum score for regulations and government investment in AV infrastructure. Its Council of Ministers approved AV testing in 2015, and took the lead in the scene by signing the Declaration of Amsterdam – through which EU countries agreed to accelerate the development of self-driving vehicles. Additionally, in February 2017 the government approved a bill to allow AV trials without a driver. The Dutch government is also investing €90 million in upgrading more than 1,000 traffic lights across the country to communicate with vehicles, and is backing a plan to get automated trucks running from Rotterdam to other cities.
On technology and innovation, the country has by far the highest percentage usage of electric vehicles of the 20 countries in the index, with a 6.39% share according to the International Energy Agency – nearly double the share of second-place Sweden.

Though the Netherlands scored relatively poorly on AV-related patents and investments, there has been a recent uptick in public-private partnerships which are accelerating the development of automotive expertise and innovation capacity. Examples include the Automotive High Tech Campus in the Eindhoven area and the connected TU Eindhoven University, which has a specialised smart mobility faculty.
“The Dutch ecosystem for autonomous vehicles is an outperformer,” remarked Stijn de Groen, a Manager at KPMG Netherlands. “Dutch roads are very well-developed and maintained, and other indicators like telecom infrastructure are also very strong. In addition, the Dutch government Ministry of Infrastructure has opened the public roads to largescale tests with self-driving passenger cars and trucks.”Innovation and electric vehicle market share (select countries)

However, consumer survey data finds the Dutch are less accepting of AV technology than most other countries. It should be noted that this is also true of several other high-ranking countries, as also found by a recent report by Deloitte, and may reflect citizens’ relative satisfaction at the existing state of transportation.
Previous KPMG research shows that the average Dutch person is still reluctant when it comes to the self-driving car. Only a third of surveyed Dutch are enthusiastic about the arrival of self-driving cars, and over half want to remain at the wheel themselves, while more than 10% indicate that they have no preference. In particular, the Dutch have doubts about the choices made by the self-driving car in traffic and the question of who is liable when the vehicle causes an accident. However, as self-driving cars begin to demonstrate that they cause fewer collisions, changes in attitude are likely to be drastic. In such a case, half of the Dutch surveyed indicate that they will opt for a self-driving car.

The runners-up

Strong performances in the quality of road infrastructure as well as the regulatory environment handed Singapore the second-highest score in the index, despite a less impressive rating on technology. Poor showings on infrastructure, on the other hand, undermined the ambitions of the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. Sweden and Germany, which are second and third on technology and innovation, are similarly let down by moderate performances in infrastructure and network.

Benefits to economy and society

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to offer huge economic and social benefits. AVs could eliminate 90-95% of accidents caused by human error, saving as many as a million lives per year (and preventing 20-50 million injuries annually). Assuming AVs are electric, they could reduce road pollution and improve health outcomes further.

AVs also offer mobility benefits to those presently unable to drive, including the disabled and elderly. Furthermore, the hours spent driving can now become productive, with car cockpits serving as mobile offices of a sort, creating a potentially huge economic boost. One study pegs the potential economic benefit to the US economy alone at $1.3 trillion per year.

Looking ahead, the automation of cars will coincide with the rapid integration of automated processes into many business processes as machines and algorithms replace the basic (and sometimes complex) tasks that humans perform today.

Related: Amsterdam and Stockholm lead the way for urban mobility in Europe.