When international consultancy Roland Berger ranked the world's countries in terms of the automotive industry, Sweden came third in the company's Automated Vehicle Index. In another survey, AVRI 2018, conducted by KPMG, Sweden ranks fourth.
Each index is based on legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure and consumer acceptance. Depending on how the different factors are weighted, the world's countries end up in different positions in each ranking. What is apparent, however, is that Sweden has a top international position when it comes to the development of self-driving vehicles.
The Gothenburg region is home to a number of initiatives that aim to develop the self-driving transport solutions of the future. These include the Vinnova-funded project Drive Sweden, which is headed by Lindholmen Science Park, and Born To Drive, a software-based solution that will optimise the logistics chain for passenger cars by helping them to drive themselves. And for some time now, a number of self-driving Volvo XC90 cars have been operating on public roads in Gothenburg as part of Drive Me, the world's first large-scale pilot project for autonomous driving.
We meet Carl-Johan Aldén, Business Manager Autonomous and AI Solutions, at Semcon's head office in Lindholmen, Gothenburg, to talk about self-driving vehicles.
The increasing level of automation can be seen as the next step in road safety, a field where Volvo Cars has always profiled itself as a world leader. Do you see ties to past efforts? Do we benefit from having been at the forefront of safety in the past now that we're developing autonomous driving?
"It's an important link. It's a well-known fact that Volvo Cars has had safety as one of its core values for many decades and it's an advantage having the two Volvo companies as engines in the Gothenburg region, what with them both being world leaders in their respective fields. Today, we also have CEVT and Geely in Gothenburg and Nevs in Trollhättan, a town that still has a significant automotive industry working very closely with Gothenburg and various suppliers," says Carl-Johan.
"We have a major advantage in having been developing active safety here in the region for more than ten years, and we've been able to base each step towards autonomous driving on past experience, giving us a good chance of getting the next step right. It might seem like the new American startups are way ahead – and in some respects they are – but we shouldn't forget that the traditional automotive industry has been making this journey for a long time, which is an obvious advantage."
The automotive industry has become an engine in the ongoing development boom seen in the Gothenburg region. What's your take on Western Sweden's automotive cluster? What are its foremost strengths?
"The region's strength is that all levels are found here – auto manufacturers, suppliers for different phases and the full breadth of the service sector. We have extensive experience, a high level of expertise and a very positive approach to collaboration. So all in all, the region boasts a complete cluster. International players are also represented in the region, with smaller local offices. Then there's us, Semcon, and other engineering companies, both large and small, working in the industry. Parallel to this, we have our highly favourable research climate, which is one of the region's greatest strengths. In other countries, research is pretty much company specific and secret; it's not until the development phase that they open things up and enlist the help of suppliers and consultants. In Sweden, we have a different kind of openness in the research phase of our R&D projects, with several actors collaborating. This is a great strength that we should most definitely maintain."
Carl-Johan also emphasises the fact that we have not only the traditional automotive business in the Gothenburg region, but also thriving telecom and IT sectors, which actively work with the automotive industry and collaborate on various research projects.
"Not every region has this breadth. Take Detroit for instance, there's not a great deal of IT and telecom there."
Geographic proximity and Gothenburg's relatively small size are also key, says Carl-Johan and mentions Lindholmen Science Park, where all involved meet on a daily basis. People eat lunch together, and talk to each other regardless of whether they have any business or joint projects under way. Everyone knows everyone.
"Now that we're transitioning to autonomous and connected vehicles and a new ecosystem in which the car is part of the city of the future, it no longer tops the pyramid. That place belongs to society or the city instead, making it natural to embrace the opportunities that service providers can offer in terms of software, electronics and so on. In this area, Sweden and the Gothenburg region have a substantial competitive advantage thanks to our openness and ability to collaborate well. More hierarchical countries have had more trouble making this transition, in both their mindsets and their organisations. Whoever can collaborate best will win, and that's not necessarily the biggest."