All together now: Driverless electric vehicles

General Motors and Tesla both announced autonomous features for electric vehicles this month.

At GM, employees at their Warren Technical Center campus will be able to call on a 2017 Chevrolet Volt, which will drive them wherever it is they want to go, and then park itself until someone else needs it. Tesla pushed out an “over-the-air” update to their software that lets you go into autopilot mode as soon as you’re driving over 18 mph.

It’s not arbitrary that GM chose the Volt as the model for their autonomous tech, or that Tesla is heading in that direction.  Both the Volt and Tesla’s cards are already high-tech wonders, and autonomy is a good match for an electric vehicle because of its efficiency advantages.  

A study from Lux Research found that autonomous vehicle technology can add an extra 24 miles to a car’s electric range. A driverless vehicle is also a more fuel-efficient car according to the report.

As our Built by Michigan fact sheet explains, EVs already produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional vehicles. Recent reports show that that gap will only widen as our grid cleans up. Add some extra efficiency from autonomous features like self-parking and you’ve got yourself a seriously environmentally friendly car. How’s that for a future?

But wait, there’s even more good news. Increased efficiency means automakers can opt for a smaller battery and get the same ranges we’re seeing now. Smaller batteries cost less, and that means more affordable EVs.

“As these autonomous features help improve the driving efficiency of plug-in vehicles, and boost charging efficiency with self-parking capabilities, they will help to bring electric vehicles to a wider audience as well,” said Lux Research analyst Maryanna Saenko.

Want more musings about how autonomous electric vehicles could change transportation as we know it? This article from Vox taps into the possibilities that electric and autonomous features open up for the design of cars.