Here’s the final commentary in a series on predictions that 2030 will be the watershed year to watch for when vehicles, transportation, and the entire auto industry itself will look quite different than it does today.
Most Americans are skeptical about completely turning over their car rides to an automated, electric vehicle. It would eventually mean giving up an old, classic tradition — getting behind the wheel and taking off for whatever destination they choose, exercising personal freedom of choice. And there are those who adore classic and vintage cars, and won’t ever want to give it up.
The latest J.D. Power study on autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles, and an interview with a top automaker CEO, indicate that peoples’ expectations for new technology development will remain in place; but opinions are leaning toward the transformation and adoption taking much longer than 2030 (more on Honda and the Power study later). Earning the public’s buy-in is going to take a while.
Autonomous, electrified shared rides and robo-taxis appear to be the most likely way that cultural transformation will be taking place — in the US and other markets where ownership of personal vehicles became the expected norm years ago.
There are other pathways expected to play a vital role in these historic shifts. Automated shuttles are becoming the first application for autonomous vehicles to be deployed as people movers under restricted conditions. Fleet deployment of electric light-to-heavy duty vehicles equipped with the latest connected, automated technologies will also play a vital role.
For now, test projects are being carried out integrating autonomous, sometimes electric, vehicles with increasingly popular transportation modes — ride hailing, car sharing, bus and shuttle rides, and a variation on age-old taxi rides. So let’s take a look.
Waymo is the closest example of what it might look like next, certainly in the US and likely around the world. The Waymo One app used to hail rides in Phoenix’s suburb of Chandler provides an alternative to taking a bus ride, taxi, or ride hailing. Started in December 2018, Waymo One has given members of its early rider program (that will go out to the general public eventually) access to an autonomous ride-hailing service. Just hit the button on the app, and very soon an empty Chrysler Pacifica minivan will approach and come to a stop right in front of you.
In 2017, Waymo CEO John Krafcik declared during a conference that “fully self-driving cars are here.” But it would take longer for them to show up for riders. Most all of the Pacifica minivans in the Phoenix area still have human riders trained to take over the van in the event of an emergency; a few self-driving vehicles are operating in limited test areas. There are hundreds of customers in the early-rider program, with some limitations.
Riders will get access to Waymo One if there’s an available vehicle nearby. It’s taking place in a controlled, geo-fenced environment. Riders are selected based on what zip code they live in and have to sign NDAs. The rides are free for now.
Waymo just expanded its working relationship with leading dealer network AutoNation. The autonomous Chrysler Pacifica can now be used to move auto parts between AutoNation’s Tempe, Ariz., locations and other repair shops in the area, including those operated by independent third parties. It’s bound to make the consumer’s vehicle maintenance and repair experience more time efficient and reliable. Previously, the relationship led to Waymo’s Pacificas being serviced at AutoNation garages, and as a mobility source for AutoNation customers to get rides to their dealerships.
Lyft Level 5: On March 28, Lyft began testing on public roads. Lyft has hired over 300 engineers, applied researchers, product managers, operations managers, and more. The focus has been on creating the world’s best computer vision, robotics, and machine learning experts. Cited accomplishments include 3D segmentation frameworks, new methods of evaluating energy efficiency in vehicles, and tracking vehicle movement using crowd-sourced maps.
The investment from General Motors has merely provided Lyft with needed capital. The company’s autonomous ride group, called Lyft Level 5, about a year ago launched a public self-driving program in Las Vegas with partner Aptiv. In August 2018, the project surpassed 5,000 self-driving rides. That recently surpassed over 50,000 autonomous rides to Lyft passengers. The company said it makes it the largest self-driving program in the US.
Waymo is another partner, where some its self-driving minivans are available for Lyft ride sharing. It’s restricted to Waymo’s authorized zone outside of Phoenix. Waymo CEO Krafcik believes the relationship gives both companies “the opportunity to collect valuable feedback.”
Last spring, Lyft said in its mandatory IPO filing that it wants to begin providing self-driving ride-hail trips on the app within five years. Within a decade, Lyft wants to be ready to provide a network of autonomous vehicles providing a majority of its trips. Five years later, the company wants to see its “purpose-built” self-driving vehicles on the road — able to take passengers on long-haul journeys.
Advanced Technologies Group (Uber ATG): Before being forced out, Uber founder and former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, said in 2016 that self-driving technology was “basically existential” for the company.
The company believes the future of mobility is increasingly shared, sustainable, and automated. The payoff will be big — supporting sustainability, helping make roads safer, and making transportation more affordable for everyone. But the capital drain continues.
Questions have come and gone about whether Uber will be able to stay in the autonomous vehicle race, with things ending badly in its Pittsburgh test market years ago. Last year’s pedestrian fatality also raises the challenges of clearing the investigation and restoring trust in its ability to safety test its AVs.
Uber is still testing adapted Volvo vehicles in its partnership with Volvo Cars through its, a company that does emphasize safety. A test project with Toyota also continues. Another alliance exists with PTIO, the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity, to find solutions that ensure everyone benefits from the adoption of self-driving technology.
AV testing through Advanced Technologies Group (Uber ATG) continues in Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto, with about 32 AVs being monitored and tracked. Dallas has been the center of testing, with ancillary test runs and Uber services being tried out, including shared rides, Uber Eats, JUMP scooters, Transit, Uber Freight, and more. The city’s modern infrastructure, unique traffic patterns, road characteristics, and climate offer new information that inform the company’s ongoing engineering efforts.
Tesla continues to cooperate with officials during investigations over fatalities tied to its Autopilot semi-autonomous feature. But the race is far from over. The company does have a sizable early lead in this space both in terms of autonomous miles driven as well as monetization of its self-driving technology.
The electric automaker has already delivered over 780,000 vehicles since its launch, and most of them come with pre-installed self-driving capabilities that users can unlock by paying for software. The company’s autonomous driving hardware is based on mature technology such as Radar, Ultrasonic, and Passive video, which is cheaper than some rivals who use LIDAR – a laser-based system.
Going this route has enabled the company to equip the hardware as standard in all its vehicles, irrespective of whether or not a user enables it by paying money.
As the company’s vehicles are estimated to have driven over 1.88 billion Autopilot miles in total thus far, this could be further enhancing Tesla’s log of driving data.
CEO Elon Musk has suggested that its AV system will be available in various applications, including as a revenue source for owners. Those opting in can rent their Model 3, or other Tesla vehicle, out to Uber and Lyft drivers (or another ride-hailing firm) needing an autonomous EV to do their work.
Maven and GM: In May, GM began shuttering its Maven car-sharing business in eight major U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York. GM won’t ending Maven anytime soon, but it is taking much longer than hoped to expand. It started up in early 2016 when a team of engineers and project managers were brought over from Google and Zipcar, along with staff it acquired from Sidecar, a failed competitor to Uber and Lyft.
Business has been smaller and slower than anticipated, and with competition coming from established car-sharing brands Zipcar and Car2Go. Two other segments were added — Maven Gig, a rental service for carless Uber and Lyft drivers. Maven Reserve added longer-term rentals; and the latest sub-segment is a peer-to-peer rental service. Maven had also been a good channel for testing out EVs and AVs. In 2017, Maven added over 100 Chevy Bolts to its fleet and participated in GM self-driving car testing.
CEO Mary Barra in recent years had emphasized that her company will become the global leader in advanced, autonomous, and electric vehicles as automakers shift over from vehicle manufacturers to full-service mobility service providers. Maven has been a slow-development projects and AVs are going that route. In July, Its self driving car unit, GM Cruise, said in July it was backing off plans to make available autonomous taxis by the end of this year. More testing of the vehicles will need to happen first.
GM’s $500 million investment in ride-hailing firm Lyft in 2016 has moved far away from any type of joint project, with Lyft continuing to test its own small fleet of self-driving cars without GM’s involvement.
Apple-backed DiDi Chuxing has received a license to operate a fleet of up to 50 self-driving cars on a pilot basis in part of the Jiading district in Shanghai, China. Automakers SAIC and BMW also received permits at the World Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem Conference on September 16.
Apple had invested about $1 billion in DiDi in 2016. The tech giant has expected that its investment and involvement would boost both companies’ efforts in product research and development — especially in China’s massive auto market. In January, the company cut more than 200 employees from its self-driving car initiative, Project Titan, in what it described as a restructuring. Five months later, Apple confirmed that it had acquired Drive.ai, a self-driving startup backed by more than $77 million in funding.
Didi, a giant ride-hailing company in China, was scheduled to begin picking up ride-hailing passengers with self-driving cars in Shanghai soon. The project will be expanded the program from that city — going toward the deployment of self-driving vehicles outside of China by 2021.
Test rides include another rider providing safety intervention in the event of an emergency. Didi is waiting for a few remaining licenses before it can start transporting customers in AVs. Self-driving rides will be free for customers, and more than 30 different vehicles will be offered for self-driving trips as part of the pilot, the company said.
Amazon: Amazon continues its move as the central player in goods delivery, warehousing, and integrating technology advancements like delivery drones into the equation. One of the decisions was for Amazon to set up acquisition of 100,000 all-electric delivery vans to Amazon over the next decade. Michigan-based startup Rivian Automotive will be building and delivering them. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said 100,000-unit fleet will eliminate 4 million metric tons of carbon emissions when fully operational.
Over the last decade, the tech giant has spent billions of dollars working on finding solutions to the “last-mile” problem in urban delivery. The company has built its own fleet of cargo jets, and explored delivery by drone in the form of “Prime Air.” More recently, an increasing percentage of that investment has been directed toward autonomous vehicle technology.
In January, the company introduced the Amazon Scout, a six-wheeled electric-powered delivery robot. Six of these robots are currently making deliveries in a Washington neighborhood during daylight hours, Monday through Friday. The next month, Amazon invested in Aurora Innovation, an autonomous tech startup run by former executives from Google and Tesla.
Penske is getting into car sharing through its Penske Dash subsidiary, with an initial launch in Washington, DC, and Arlington, Va. The trucking logistics, rental, and leasing giant, is offering Volkswagen Jetta SE models for rent by the minute, hour, or day through its proprietary app. Rates are inclusive of fuel, parking, and insurance.
The truck leasing and rental company has joined the race with three other rental companies — Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise — which have been testing out car-sharing projects in recent years. Avis has made the biggest splash with its acquisition of Zipcar.
Penske partnered with Ridecell, which is powering the mobile app, payment processing, parking info, and predictive analytics for the fleet. Members using the service have 24/7 access to a call center and a local fleet operations team.
Operational efficiency will be a big part of the unit’s success, the company said. “We can take advantage of infrastructure through our joint venture partners at Penske Corporation and Penske Truck Leasing, particularly on the service and roadside assistance portion of the car-sharing business,” said Michael Montri, chief operating officer.
Hyundai just announced it will launch a free ride-hailing service with a fleet of autonomous electric cars in Irvine, Calif., starting this month. The news comes after the South Korean automaker announced that it would invest $35 billion in autonomous and electric vehicle development over the next five years.
Hyundai is partnering with AV startup Pony.ai and ride-hailing service Via for the free taxi service. Interested riders can hail a self-driving car via a smartphone app. Korea’s largest automaker said it won’t be fully autonomous. Hyundai says a safety driver will be behind the wheel, and there will also be an additional engineer in the passenger seat.
It’s one piece in the Korean maker’s new global campaign. The company promotes itself as a world-leading smart mobility solutions provider that will be able to offer solutions through its cutting-edge technologies and solutions. That will offer customers “quality time and empower them to pursue their passions at full throttle,” the company said — and has been depicting it in a new global brand campaign called #BecauseofYou.
The first of these TV commercials was filmed in downtown Amsterdam during the morning rush hour. The commercials shows a female office worker being overwhelmed by the traffic — a crisis becomes instantly transformed when she steps out of her Hyundai Nexo fuel-cell SUV and hops onto a Hyundai electric scooter — solving the “last mile” dilemma becoming common in cities around the world with booming populations, and getting to her office on time.
Some automakers backing off: While 2030 has been named the magic year in a few market reports and conference keynote speeches, the timeline for automated EVs to become the industry norm in global vehicle manufacturing and sales likely will be taking much longer. One auto executive recently spoke to the question.
“The hurdles to battery electric vehicles and complete autonomous driving are still quite high,” Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo recently said in an interview at Honda Motor Co.’s global headquarters.
Honda will focus on gasoline-electric hybrids, not full EVs, through 2030. As for fully autonomous vehicles, Honda will roll out incremental advances that offer real-world safety at affordable prices. The automaker already has a number of new technologies ready to include in its new vehicle lineup, including a hands-off autonomous system for highways. But the company will be taking a “wait-and-see” approach with autonomous and electric vehicles.
Hachigo’s perspectives are shared by other leaders in auto manufacturing, including Japanese rival Toyota’s Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama. The executive last month said in a speech that even with its $10 billion r&d budget, Toyota has always seen the path to commercialization as long and challenging.
Last month, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said he’s “given up” on ever seeing Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles being allowed on public roads during his lifetime. Apple is still working on a self-driving car project, but Wozniak said it’s become much harder to achieve than had originally been thought.
A new survey by J.D. Power last month supports the conclusion that reaching mass adoption will be taking well over a decade. The study found that consumer sentiment about self-driving vehicles and electrification has stayed flat recently, even through the technology growth has been impressive.
J.D. Power’s 2019 Q3 Mobility Confidence Index Study found that opinions haven’t changed since the last survey three month prior. The index now stands at 36 (on a 100-point scale) for self-driving vehicles and 55 for battery-electric vehicles — identical to the previous one.
“It was a little surprising to find consumer sentiment about self-driving vehicles and electrification has stayed flat,” said Kristin Kolodge, J.D. Power’s executive director-driver interaction and human-machine interface research. “But it shows that consumers are really steadfast in their opinions about new mobility technologies right now, regardless of how close they are to being available for purchase.”
The studies polled more than 5,000 consumers and industry experts on self-driving vehicles, and another 5,000 on battery-electric vehicles. One industry expert in the study agrees with colleagues on how tough the challenge has become. “Tech and automotive companies continue to learn how difficult the problem really is,” the expert said.
In February 2018, a global ride-hailing industry association was formed and found membership in several leading entities — BlaBlaCar, Citymapper, Didi, Keolis, LimeBike, Lyft, Mobike, Motivate, Ofo, Ola, Scoot Networks, Transit, Uber, Via, and Zipcar. They signed the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities today, pledging to prioritize people over vehicles, lower emissions, promote equity and encourage data sharing, among other goals.
The companies estimated they provide about 77 million passenger trips per day in cities around the world. The Shared Mobility Principles offer a vision for the future of cities, and creates alignment between the city governments, private companies, and NGOs working to make them more livable.
These companies and a few others — Waymo, Apple, Tesla, other automakers and automotive suppliers — are expected to be at the center of all of it. Their roles and corporate identities will be transforming, but that will take shape well after 2030.
And in other news……..
Uber and other mobile apps fighting California’s new labor law: California’s leading mobile app companies — Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart — will be fighting the state’s new law, AB 5, that was approved and signed by the governor in September. AB 5 will essentially be making drivers employees after it becomes enacted on January 1. The Silicon Valley mobility companies are backing what’s called the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Act, which will become a ballot initiative for the November 2020 election once enough Californians sign a request to have it placed on that ballot. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have each contributed $30 million to get the initiative approved by voters; Postmates and Instacart are each contributing $10 million. If enacted, their law would cancel AB 5; it’s being written to ensure drivers and couriers can continue to be independent contractors with flexible work hours. Drivers have been marching in support of the new initiative, which will have incentives built in such as guaranteeing they receive at least 120 percent of minimum wage while on the job. It would reverse the new rules that AB 5 has created for the state. Legal battles are likely to take place in the state’s courts, with class-action lawsuits for workers and suits filed by the mobile app companies attempting to thwart AB 5. For now, Uber and the other Silicon Valley startups are being quiet about how their drivers will be treated after January 1 — if the companies will follow AB 5, or if it will be ignored as they scramble to organize their lobbying and legal battles.
Ford v Ferrari: For car buffs and racing fans, “Ford v Ferrari” will be a real treat. Released in theaters this coming Friday, the movie dramatizes the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, where legendary designer Carroll Shelby’s Ford GT40 was able to knock out reigning champion Ferrari. Mat Damon plays Shelby and Christian Bale plays maverick driver Ken Miles. The filmmakers borrowed cars shown in the film from California-based Shelby Legendary Cars and its parent company, Superformance.
Uber and Lyft riders not happy with LAX: Airline passengers coming in to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have to wait longer now to get into their Uber and Lyft rides. Uber and Lyft passengers can no longer wait for the car to arrive curbside at terminals; they have to get on what’s called the LAX-it shuttle and be taken to an offsite station to meet their drivers. The airport continues constructing a major changeover, with a new people mover being set up to carry passengers across the expanding terminals. LAX ground transportation guidelines have been changing for a few years now, and passengers have become more agitated with the wait time and gridlock at the airport with continued construction and roadblocks. Airport administrators hope that setting up the new ride-hailing station will reduce traffic overall for drivers dropping off, and picking up, family and friends on the LAX terminal loop. Getting a ride from Uber and Lyft had been a convenient, cost effective transportation option in the past few years. That’s all changing now, with much of that efficiency being taken away. Air travelers and those driving them have been avoiding LAX whenever possible as traffic has gotten worse. Solutions for travelers include going to another nearby airport whenever possible. However, many cross country and international flights have to go in and out of LAX — and not the Orange County, Long Beach, or Ontario Airports. So changes at LAX greatly affect regular travels living and working in the LA and OC area. For taxi, chauffeured transportation, and shuttle operators, LAX’s changes affecting Uber and Lyft are just deserts for stringent and costly regulations imposed on them for several decades by airports and cities. Uber and Lyft are facing more regulations and fees in London, and the companies can expect government entities around the world to extend more of their own rules and fees as ride hailing continues expanding rapidly in these markets.
BYD Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. announced last week that they have signed an agreement to establish a joint company to research and develop battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The new R&D company, which will work on designing and developing BEVs (including platforms) and related parts, is anticipated to be established in China in 2020, with BYD and Toyota to evenly share 50 percent of the total capital needed. Additionally, BYD and Toyota plan to staff the new company by transferring engineers and the jobs currently involved in related R&D from their respective companies.