Are autonomous EV’s part of our transportation future?

Lawrence Burns, a former vice president for General Motors’ research and development, has a radical new idea about the future of transportation, and it centers around electric vehicles.

As reported by Forbes, Burns sees a future in which we are served by fleets of small, electric, shared autonomous vehicles. To buy groceries or get to work, we don’t need as many seats, and people living in cities don’t need cars with huge ranges and high speeds. The solution: smaller cars that we all share and order when we need them.

car sharing

But why is this good news for the electric vehicle market. Several reasons.

As automakers strive to make more efficient vehicles that meet state emission standards and electric vehicle requirements, they’ll discover that it’s easier and less expensive to adopt the electric model. As Forbes reports:

“Beyond 2025, battery and fuel-cell vehicles could simply become the best way to design and engineer a light-duty vehicle,” Burns said tonight at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “Set aside all the motivations with climate change, oil dependence—it’s just a better way to do a car. It’s simple.”

Also, industry trends like ride-sharing services and self-driving cars can have a symbiotic relationship with electric vehicles—smaller cars used in ride-sharing will need much smaller batteries than the EVs being produced now, making them cheaper to purchase.  In addition, the 24/7 ride-sharing model means more miles being traveled on electricity, bringing even more fuel savings compared to combustion based cars.

This theory has direct applications to Southeast Michigan, too.  Burns used Ann Arbor as an example in his report. The city, according the Burns’ research, could substitute its 120,000 cars for 18,000 shared, autonomous electric vehicles.  

Whether that scenario is likely to occur or not, autonomous vehicles could be an interesting new way for people to get around, and for Michigan automakers to get ahead of the game.