According to a new forecast from IHS Automotive, the world's roads will be driven almost exclusively by entirely self-driving vehicles -- including both privately owned cars and professional fleets -- by the year 2050. The American research firm expects to see 54 million self-driving cars on the roads by 2035.

IHS predicts that annual sales of autonomous vehicles will reach 230,000 by 2025 and increase exponentially over the following years, hitting 12 million a decade later.

Of these 12 million vehicles, 5 million are expected to be entirely self-driving models, while the remaining 7 million will still require some level of human control.

The North American market is slated to lead the autonomous vehicle market in 2035, accounting for 29 per cent of worldwide sales, followed by China (24 per cent) and Western Europe (20 per cent).

According to Egil Juliussen, one of the analysts behind the report, one of the most notable effects of the spread of autonomous cars will be an improvement in road safety, as "accident rates will plunge to near zero for self-driving cars."

Juliussen also predicts a decrease in traffic congestion and pollution per car, as autonomous cars "can be programmed to be more efficient in their driving patterns."

The price markup for self-driving technology, IHS estimates, will initially stand at around $7,000 to $10,000 per vehicle, before dropping to around $1,000 on entry-level models by 2030.

The car of the future

Ford recently developed an entirely autonomous park assist feature that allows drivers to park the car simply by pressing a button, whether from within the car or outside of it (using a remote control).

The American manufacturer is not the only brand actively developing its autonomous car technologies.

  • Volvo will soon launch a pilot project in which 100 autonomous cars will be tested on public roads around the city of Gothenburg, Sweden.
  • Nissan equipped a version of its all-electric car, the Leaf, with automatic driving technologies enabling it to legally travel along Japanese roads without a driver.
  • Google, meanwhile, has been testing its driverless cars in California and Nevada for some time now.

The first serially produced self-driving cars are expected to hit the market in 2020.