Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft have disrupted the transportation market and fundamentally changed the way we think about getting around. They aren’t stopping. Uber is piloting self-driving Ford Fusion hybrids in Pittsburg, signaling a market trend for ride share services: a private fleet of autonomous vehicles replacing human drivers for safer and more cost-efficient rides. The kicker? These companies will save even more money by going fully electric.
A recent article in the Detroit Free Press made a strong case for the symbiotic relationship between electric and autonomous cars. Gas mileage regulations and emissions restrictions, which will likely be most strict in the sorts of dense urban areas that will make the most use of autonomous ride sharing, will be easily met by EVs, which produce zero emissions. If ride sharing services are to use a privately owned autonomous fleet, they’ll also want it to have low maintenance and upkeep costs. EVs fit the bill perfectly—they have significantly less moving parts than internal combustion vehicles which helps lead to proven lower lifetime ownership costs. Even if the upfront cost of a new electric car is greater than a gas car purchase price, lifetime ownership savings will make EVs the more affordable choice. And by the time autonomous ridesharing services are ready to become the national norm, EV battery prices may fall to prices competitive with their gasoline-guzzling counterparts. It helps that electric vehicles are easier for a computer to drive than gas powered cars.
This forecast of an electric and autonomous future is backed by recent research by The Rocky Mountain Institute, as reported by the Washington Post. The Institute’s study found that hiring autonomous taxis as our primary form of transportation will be safer and more energy efficient than owning a car privately, and that the electrification of autonomous taxis will make them cheaper for consumers, too.
The Rocky Mountain Institute made some bold predictions: by 2018, they say, hiring an autonomous taxi for all transportation will cost the same as privately owning and operating a gas powered car, and peak car ownership in America will occur in 2020 and decline thereafter.
Whether or not this electric and autonomous mobility revolution happens that quickly, this future looks bright for both Michigan’s auto industry, which can be at the forefront of autonomous electric car development, and for the world, which will benefit from the significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions produced by today’s gas-powered vehicles.