Speculation about the future of transportation, like common flu, appears to be contagious. Not a week goes by without another celebrity, business guru or executive predicting that future of transportation is electric.
That, you may say, is probable and not newsworthy. What is newsworthy is that many of the same people are predicting that the transition is likely to be at a pace much faster than many had expected.
In July 2016, for example, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson was quoted as saying that he suspected that 15 years from now every car on the road would be electric. Chances are that he made up the number – 15 years – without giving it much thought. One can also assume that he was talking about new cars sold in 15 years, not all cars on the road.
That, of course, is what makes Branson Branson. He was talking to CNN at a Formula E race, which he was attending to support the Virgin Racing team. He said,
“Formula E is pushing the boundaries forward into what will be the future. Fifteen years from now, I suspect every car on the road will be electric.”
He went on to elaborate:
“If governments set the ground rules — and they sometimes have to be brave and set positive ground rules — and for instance said, ‘more than 50% of cars must be battery-driven in 10 years and 100% in 15 years,’ we could make that happen. It will be great fun and really challenging to do. The cars would be much more efficient… and battery technology will get better and better.”
In the cutthroat world of technology, if you’re not first, you’re last. With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see tech companies and automakers clawing to be first in line to release self-driving cars.
Uber recently partnered with Volvo in a $300-million project that should result in a self-driving fleet as early as next month. But amazingly, a 3-year-old company called nuTonomy has beat Uber to the punch by launching the world’s first self-driving taxi in Singapore.
Cambridge, MA,-based nuTonomy has been privately testing self-driving vehicles in Singapore since April and is now allowing select residents in the city’s one-north business district to be driven around in its self-driving taxis for free. Customers will be able to summon one of nuTonomy’s self-driving taxis through the company’s app and will be picked up in a Renault Zoe or Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car modified for autonomous driving.
While the taxi will drive itself, an engineer from nuTonomy will ride in the vehicle to ensure that the car is operating properly and will take over if needed. There’s no word on how many self-driving taxis nuTonomy put on the road, but the trials take the company one step closer to launching its fully autonomous fleet by 2018.
The Wall Street Journal’s Jake Watts managed to get a ride in one of nuTonomy’s self-driving taxis and, while it went well, he claims human cabdrivers may not go extinct any time soon. According to Watts, the self-driving Mitsubishi lacked Tesla’s polish and was overly cautious. The car did a fine job of avoiding jaywalkers, parked cars, and pedestrians on the short drive, but hesitated often, which could gives riders motion sickness, Watts said.
nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma will be speaking at Autoblog’s UPSHIFT 2016 conference on transportation technology on October 6 in Detroit.
As our urban transportation landscape becomes automated over the next decade, it could spark an electric car revolution.
Spend enough time around these early self-driving vehicles and you notice that nearly all are hybrids or pure electric vehicles. They include Ford’s automated Fusion, the similarly equipped Fusion hybrids that Uber is deploying in Pittsburgh, the Google cars bopping around the peninsula of northern California, the Chevrolet Bolts being tested in San Francisco and suburban Phoenix.
Today, hybrids, plug-ins and pure electrics are a marginal piece of the U.S. market, accounting for a scant 2.8% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. through the first eight months of 2016, according to hybridcars.com.
But a decade from now, electric cars will appeal far beyond the granola-eating, tree-hugging, climate-change evangelizing base that has sustained them thus far. You may not own one, but you will have ridden in them. The change won’t be instant, but it will be steady.
So why will our autonomous future likely be an electric one?
First are the regulatory reasons, namely gas mileage requirements. Then there are engineering reasons — electric vehicles are easier for computers to drive. And, of course, ride-hailing services will increasingly make up a higher percentage of daily miles driven, and it will be easier, cheaper and safer to recharge an unmanned car than to gas one up.
“One of the biggest changes will be in the growing difference in cost of ownership between electrified and internal combustion engines,”
Ford CEO Mark Fields said last week, repeating his company’s pledge to spend $4.5 billion to introduce 13 new electric vehicle nameplates by 2020.
A competition, of sorts, between Silicon Valley and Detroit has been ongoing in the past decade for the engineering and computer programming talent needed to create the next generation of smart, connected and ultimately self-driving vehicles.
The two sides will likely have to work together — either through mergers and acquisitions or strategic partnerships — and electric cars will be the platform.
The federal government’s corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards will vary depending on the mix of trucks, SUVs and passenger cars a manufacturer sells, but a substantial portion of electrified vehicles will be needed to achieve the goals.
And then there are the engineering reasons.
“There are a lot fewer moving pieces in an electric vehicle. There are three main components — the battery, the inverter and the electric motor,”
said Levi Tillemann-Dick, managing partner at Valence Strategic in Washington, D.C., and author of “The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future.”
“An internal combustion engine contains 2,000 tiny pieces that have to be kept lubricated and they break every once in a while.”
“Peak oil demand” is the new “peak oil supply” because of climate change and plummeting costs for electric car batteries.
It’s increasingly clear that we’re not going to move off of oil because we run out of supply. Rather, we’re going to move off of oil because it is both the economic and moral thing to do.
The research firm Bernstein notes that two “existential threats to the oil industry” exist — “climate change” and “advances in battery technology and computing power, which have resulted in a surge in interest in electric vehicles and autonomous driving.” They project the peak in oil demand could come as soon as 2030–2035:
Even if you work the auto industry, you probably didn’t expect the current rush to develop, build, sell, and drive electric vehicles.
But there’s no denying it. A series of technology developments, market disruptions, and wake-up calls are hastening an inevitable shift from fossil fuel engines to electric power in cars and trucks, according to a post on TechCrunch.
Battery technology is the greatest enabler of the shift to fully electric-powered vehicles. Lower electricity cost means less expensive cars. With range anxiety now a “thing” and a common deterrent to full-electric car purchases, larger capacity batteries are needed for adequate driving range. The cost of lithium-ion battery power has dropped by about 80 percent in the last eight years. One kilowatt of power that cost roughly $1,000 in 2008 is now closer to $200. Continued battery technology advances plus the impending construction of huge new battery factories could bring prices down to $100 per kilowatt in the next few years.
Autonomous vehicle technology is developing hand in hand with the switch to electrification. Auto manufacturers are working fast to develop autonomous capabilities just to stay up with their competitors. Combining hybrid and all-electric power with autopilot and auto-assist features gives manufacturers showcase platforms.
ADDRESSING a high-profile audience of the Thai energy sector last week, Stanford University lecturer and Silicon Valley investor Tony Seba minced no words in warning them that petroleum, which had been a source of livelihood to many of them, would become obsolete by 2030 or sooner.
Citing four key technologies – energy storage, electric vehicles, self-driving cars, and solar – the author of the amazon.com best seller “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation” said the energy and transport industries were on the cusp of either being transformed or destroyed.
“The energy and transport industries will become high-tech industries” he told the Petroleum Institute of Thailand’s 30th anniversary event that was attended by energy and science ministers, privy councillor, director of the Crown Property Bureau Snoh Unakul, and other top energy officials and executives. Speaking at a press conference held at the conference, Seba said since consumers would switch “en masse” to electric vehicles by 2020, petroleum – 60 per cent of which is used for transport – was going to become obsolete.
The driving force will be the four key technologies that will improve exponentially, not because of climate change, he said.
Besides “exponential” technological development in key areas such as in lithium-on batteries, solar photovoltaic installations and generating costs, electric and autonomous cars, and LIDAR sensors, Seba pointed out business model innovations that could accelerate the changes such as storage-as-a-service, electric vehicles’ (EVs) free charging network, car-as-a-service, and “zero money down solar” leasing.
EVs will hit the low-end automobile segments by 2020 when their prices drop to $20,000 (Bt700,000) and will put an end to internal combustion engine cars when EV prices fall to $5,000 in 2030, he predicted. Tesla recently introduced its Model 3 at an unsubsidised retail price tag of $35,000. Within 24 hours, it received 180,000 bookings – a record for the car industry.
The UK Government will lose out on major economic benefits unless it makes a significant investment in upgrading the nation’s electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and upskilling the motor industry, an independent academic report will warn this week.
The report, commissioned by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), concludes that the overall economic and social benefit of EVs, connected and autonomous vehicles could be in the region of £51bn per year by 2030, with the potential for 320,000 newly-created industry jobs.
Researchers will present the report’s findings to a cross-party group of MPs on Wednesday (13 April), calling on the Government to focus on protecting the economic growth of the motor industry by acting strategically to make charging low emission cars more convenient for drivers, and ensuring that there are enough skilled technicians to service and repair them.
Loughborough University professor Jim Saker, who will host Wednesday’s Parliamentary meeting, said:
“The UK, by the nature of its size and geography, has a natural advantage in the rapid adoption of vehicles with the new power train technologies, but it is dependent on Government investment to pump prime this initiative.
“Without proper regulation, a skills gap will emerge with only a limited number of technicians working in the franchised sector being able to service and repair new technology vehicles. If this trend is found to be true then it is likely that the independent sector of the retail automotive sector will decline. This will mean that the market will fail to open up and develop to the benefit of the UK economy.”
Perhaps the worst driving experience of my life happened in 2009 while helping a friend move. She could only afford to rent a rusty van for a single day, so I agreed to make the 14-hour round trip from London to Scotland and back again in one shot. After setting off at 9 AM, we arrived at 7 PM, some four hours behind schedule, thanks to bad traffic. I started the 450-mile home leg at around 9 PM, and the entire journey was a battle to stay awake, alert and within the confines of my lane. Plenty of coffee and roadside breaks later, I arrived home at 6 AM, 21 hours after setting off. It was the most unsafe I’ve ever felt in a car.
When Tesla offered us the opportunity to test out its semi-autonomous Autopilot feature in the Model S, my thoughts immediately went to Scotland and that traumatic journey. While I’m never going to trade my VW Golf for a car that expensive, the new Model 3 will arrive at $35,000 with many of the same capabilities. So I saw the opportunity to take an extremely early Model 3 test drive, of sorts. I wanted to know if it could make a cross-country journey on electric power, and see if the Autopilot would have made that long trip to Scotland a little less arduous.
To test this theory, we would drive up to the north of England — Scotland just wasn’t practical given the time constraints we were under. We’d then stretch out the process with some video and photo shoots, before heading home hopefully somewhat exhausted. On the trip back to London, we’d then make use of the autonomous features — about 90 percent of the journey back could be driven by the Tesla, with limited human oversight.
My colleague Matt Brian picked up the Model S — a $120,000 (£110,250) P90D, to be precise — from Hounslow, on the outskirts of London. From there we’d take the M25 freeway, which encircles London, before setting off on the M1, the main road heading north. We chose Leeds, a city around four hours away in the north of England, as our destination. Because the Tesla is electric, though, we’d need a charger to get us there. Or at least back.
And Tesla claims there are 115,000 preorders, which is madness.
After a long wait, Tesla has finally unveiled the Model 3. It’s what we were expecting (and hoping for) – a less-expensive, versatile, attractive five-seater with decent range and a low price. It rounds out Tesla’s revised Secret Master Plan, as Elon Musk cheekily called it, that started with the Roadster, progressed to the Model S, and grew to encompass the Model X.
That’s all fine, but did you catch how many preorders Musk said the company had received for the Model 3 by this evening? 115,000 – a staggering number. If you’ll remember, each reservation to purchase a Model 3 requires a $1,000 (refundable) deposit.
Here’s the other stuff you should really know about Tesla’s entry-level electric vehicle. For one, Musk promises it’ll ace every safety test category. All will be standard with Autopilot hardware (autonomous driving functionality) and Supercharging (very fast recharging) capability.
It’ll also seat five real adults in comfort, as Tesla has squashed the instrument panel a bit and moved the front seats forward to clear rear legroom. To give a sense of airiness to the cabin, and also to gain some extra headroom, it’ll have a roof made of two large panes of glass, with the windshield meeting the backlight just above the A-pillar. Neat. In case you surf, it’ll swallow a 7-foot surfboard, apparently.
Tesla’s all-electric flagship Model S gives you range confidence.
The 20th Century failed to deliver several high profile science fiction promises: jetpacks exist but are impractical, flying cars never worked, and working androids are still yet to arrive outside of a Japanese technology conference. The 21st Century is doing a little better. It’s now possible for anyone to travel thousands of miles in a semi-autonomous all-electric vehicle, as long as they have a little extra money to spend.
Taking a Tesla Model S on a 1,200 mile round-trip to the middle of rural France is not only possible, thanks to the company’s network of supercharger stations, it’s one of the best road trips we’ve ever driven. For the last few years Tesla has been building a network of 120kW supercharging stations which can get you to half charge in 20 minutes. That means you can get almost anywhere in Europe, for free, if you have a compatible car and don’t mind stopping every few hours (which you’ll probably do anyway).