Volvo Believes Self-Driving Cars Will Disrupt Aviation

Busy travelers don’t love waiting at the airport for flights that might or might not be on time. But they don’t love sitting in traffic either, regardless of who’s driving. As long as gridlock is an issue, will autonomous cars really change the travel game that much?

— Hannah Sampson

Volvo Cars is taking aim at the aviation industry, saying self-driving vehicles could eliminate the need for some short-haul flights.

The Gothenburg, Sweden-based carmaker on Wednesday unveiled a project to explore how autonomous vehicles can be used to shuttle people between cities, allowing them more time for rest, work and play instead of the hassle of flying.

“Domestic air travel sounds great when you buy your ticket, but it really isn’t,” Marten Levenstam, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Volvo Cars, said in a statement. Autonomous cars with sleeping cabins “could enable us to compete with the world’s leading aircraft makers.”

Air travel routes of around 300 kilometers (186 miles) are “prime candidates for disruption,” the company said. That’s just under the distance between New York and Boston, which is a busy aviation corridor. Of course, an increase in road travel has its own potential downsides, such as traffic congestion.

Volvo Cars, owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Co., is said to be considering an initial public offering later this year. It predicts cars that can sometimes drive themselves will make up one third of its deliveries by the middle of the next decade. A share sale could raise funds to develop new technologies. The company has been transformed under Geely’s ownership and is now also working on alternatives to car ownership such as subscription systems.

The latest project, dubbed 360c, is a “conversation starter,” according to Volvo. It didn’t provide details on when its fully autonomous, electric vehicles may hit the roads, but said when they do, they could be used as bedrooms, mobile offices, and entertainment spaces.