Ford, like most carmakers, is road-testing driverless cars (Photo: Ford)

Market researchers IHS Automotive have significantly increased their forecast for autonomous-vehicle sales, as automakers and suppliers invest heavily in advanced driver-assistance systems.

IHS expects sales of nearly 21 million autonomous vehicles worldwide by 2035, a sharp increase from about 600,000 in 2025. The US is expected to lead the early deployment and adoption of the cars.

The forecast, which reflects a 43 percent compound annual growth rate between 2025 and 2035, is based on the high R&D investments automotive companies are making in autonomous-driving technology, the growth of car-sharing programs - which would benefit from driverless cars - and progress in discussions over the regulatory changes needed to allow the cars on public roads.

”Future mobility will connect and combine many different modes and technologies," said IHS Automotive principal analyst Jeremy Carlson. "Autonomous vehicles will play a central role.”

While the US market is expected to be a frontrunner in deployment with 4.5 million autonomous vehicles by 2035, China, because of its size, will likely lead in volume terms. IHS predicted that, by 2035, more than 5.7 million vehicles there will be equipped with "some form of autonomy."