Here’s part four of 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.
Five years ago, a speaker at AltCar Expo stirred up a lot of conversation among attendees and a few humorous references by panel speakers during the day. It was big enough for the speaker to be invited back the next year. Tony Seba, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford University lecturer, made dramatic forecasts about electric transportation, autonomous vehicles, and solar power. One of his revolutionary predictions is that all new vehicle sales in the US will be electrified and autonomous by 2030; and EVs will be powered by solar energy. The prediction came from his model analyzing the technologies’ exponential growth rates in the market.
Earlier that year, in May 2014, Google revealed a new prototype of its self-driving car, which had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal, and being 100 percent autonomous. It set off a tidal wave of ambitious goals announced by automakers, media coverage and analysis, and a series of studies and speaker panels on what autonomous vehicles would mean — and how it will soon be the norm with US vehicles and possibly at a global scale.
During this year, KPMG and other analysts were not putting out likely timelines and significant benchmark years for autonomous vehicles (AVs) clearing regulatory hurdles and seeing mass production from major and specialty automakers, and an obvious presence on public roads. Seba’s “disruptive technology” theory is intruiging, but taking the latest look suggests that the new industry and technology hasn’t been building the needed momentum to see historic change over the next decade; not that it’s going to disappear, though.
Safety remains the key barrier to overcome for the new technology to clear regulatory hurdles and find public support. National Transportation Safety Board reports on Uber and Tesla tell some of the story.
Uber Technologies Inc.’s autonomous test vehicles were involved in 37 crashes in the 18 months before a fatal March 2018 self-driving car incident in Tempe, Ariz., the NTSB said on Tuesday. Between September 2016 and March 2018, there were 37 crashes of Uber vehicles in autonomous mode at the time, including 33 that involved another vehicle striking test vehicles. Uber’s self-driving test car that struck and killed a pedestrian in March 2018 wasn’t programmed to recognize and react to jaywalkers, according to the board. The NTSB on Nov. 19 will hold a probable cause hearing on the Arizona crash.
Tesla still has to resolve warnings sent out by fatal crashes that have been attributed to its Autopilot semi-autonomous feature. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in September cited both driver error and Tesla’s Autopilot design as the probable causes of a January 2018 crash, in which a Model S slammed into a parked fire truck at about 31 mph. The driver was distracted and did not see the fire truck, according to the federal agency. NTSB says that Tesla’s Autopilot was also at fault, as its design “permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task.”
KPMG published its second annual Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index (AVRI) with a metric that takes into account four pillars to determine which country will lead the new transportation mode: policy and legislation; technology and innovation; infrastructure; and consumer acceptance. European countries dominated the rankings this year, with Netherlands at No.1, followed by Singapore, Norway, the US, and Sweden. Norway was a new entry to the list, and passed up the US — which has fallen one place to fourth.
Taking a look at the four categories used by KPMG in the study to develop the measures and methodologies reveals more. For policy and legislation, AV regulations, government-funded AV pilots, and AV-focused agency were key factors; Singapore leads this pillar. For technology and innovation, partnerships, patents, and investments are key factors, with Israel taking the lead this year. For Infrastructure, the Netherlands leads through having the most EV charging stations scaled by the size of its road network, as well as consistently high scores on the other measures. (More on those interesting categories below.) For consumer acceptance, Singapore scored highest overall in the KPMG study, partly due to all of the city-state’s population living in an AV test area.
For countries with a high acceptance rate in AVs, India and Mexico also took leading positions. Those living in Great Britain and the US are the least accepting. A new study by Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE) with US respondents found that 73 percent of them preferred to share control with their vehicle. An overwhelming 92 percent said it is a requirement to be able to activate an emergency stop function in a self-driving car.
Here are a few other interesting details from the KPMG study and recent news:
- When looking at the AV infrastructure, some of the factors being reviewed have been density of EV charging stations; quality of mobile internet; 4G coverage (the bridge to much faster 5G networks that are slowing coming out now); and quality of roads.
- Americans tend to be skeptical about trusting AVs in surveys. But one area of mobility experience that may help adoption in the US and a few other markets is ride hailing. China leads in market penetration of ride-hailing, followed by the US and the UK. Some of the most interesting test projects have involved partners working toward bringing robotaxis and shared rides in AVs — GM working toward its Maven car-sharing unit offering autonomous vehicles including the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt. Uber and Lyft have been investing in it, with Waymo leading the way.
- Baidu is leading the way in China. China’s search-engine giant is getting the most test miles under its belt, which is critical in building public support for the new technology.
- Volkswagen is stepping up its efforts to become a leader in autonomous vehicles and ride services by spinning off its own startup that it claims will be among the “best-funded” in the world. Volkswagen Autonomy, or VWAT, plans to bring robot taxis and cargo vans to three continents by 2025.
And in other news:
Fisker launch announced: Fisker Inc. has launched it long-awaited all electric luxury SUV, which the company has named the Fisker Ocean. The company said it will be the “world’s most sustainable vehicle,” built on recycled, vegan and more innovative materials. Fisker said it will be breaking the usual automaker product launch process by revealing a fully running production intent prototype sitting on the actual, completely engineered platform on Jan. 4, 2020. Early reservations will start with the launch of the mobile app later this month, when pricing will be announced. The battery electric vehicle will have 250 to 300 miles per charge, depending on driving conditions, that will come from an approximately 80 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. To learn more, visit www.FiskerInc.com.
BMW and Ford providing charging networks: The BMW Group will install over 4,100 charging points for electrified vehicles at its German locations by 2021. The new charging infrastructure enables BMW Group employees to charge their cars conveniently at their workplaces. About half of the charging points will also be open to the public. That follows a recent announcement from Ford that it will be offering its all-electric vehicle customers North America’s largest electric vehicle public charging network, with more than 12,000 places to charge, including fast charging, and more than 35,000 charge plugs. Ford said it will be more charging infrastructure provided than from any other automaker. Through FordPass on a mobile device or in each vehicle’s on-screen dashboard, customers will be able to monitor charging at home, and find and pay for easy, one-stop charging at FordPass Charging Network stations.
Volvo Trucks selling EVs in Europe: Volvo Trucks announced the start of sales of its Volvo FL and Volvo FE electric trucks in selected markets within Europe, meeting the increasing demand for sustainable transport solutions in city environments. “Global urbanization requires urban logistics and truck transport with zero emissions and less noise with increasing urgency. With the Volvo FL Electric and Volvo FE Electric we are able to meet both the strong environmental demands as well as the high commercial requirements of our customers,” said Jonas Odermalm, VP Product Line Electromobility.