Autonomy is EV’s killer app


Mark was part of Formula 1 for many years before moving to a Team Principal’s position at a Formula E team and creating the Preston EV StreetDrone. Today Mark Preston predicts that the application of autonomous technologies will unlock greater efficiency and provide a cutting edge for automotive businesses.

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Bloomberg New Energy has forecast that global sales of electric vehicles (EVs) will exceed 41 million units by 2040 as the total cost of ownership for EVs will fall below that for fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2025. Yet, while we have seen considerable growth in EV sales in recent years, their application in partnership with other emerging technologies will unlock their true potential. Looking at the full picture of electric vehicle sales statistics makes it pretty clear that as technology improves, more vehicles will be sold.

Most prominent amongst these emerging mobility technologies is autonomous software development – a major investment area for traditional automotive manufacturers and technology companies alike. While the majority of reports on autonomy technology to date have focused on those businesses that are investing in research, it is essential that greater focus is placed on its application to understand its true potential for changing society.

Reflecting a changing mobility landscape

Just this week, Germany announced that it plans to ban the introduction of new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines from 2030 as part of the concerted global effort to reduce carbon emissions, reinforcing the importance of EVs to fulfilling our transportation requirements.

While we have seen considerable EV sales growth in recent years, their application in partnership with other emerging technologies will unlock their true potential.

In the past 12 months alone, we have seen the EV market shift from the realm of low-production specialist manufacturers to the core focus of the biggest brands in the automotive industry and the future of their product lines.

For traditional automotive companies, the EV market allows new opportunities for brand differentiation. With fewer moving parts, EVs offer improved reliability and increased efficiency and allow both the brand and the consumer to buy into a greater social responsibility that promotes a carbon-neutral footprint.

These very reasons attract new players to the mobility market, with household names from the technology industry, such as Apple and Google, have announced their own solutions alongside the likes of GM and VW.

Yet, it is not the technology but its application and development of complementary innovations that will make EVs ubiquitous, following in a similar model to that of smartphones.

A shift in the mobility mindset

The traditional model for vehicle ownership is changing as rapidly as new technologies are emerging, and the widespread adoption of EVs and autonomous vehicles will require a social shift in the perception of public transport.

Henry Ford popularised the concept of personal car ownership in the early 20th century, and to this day, the vast majority of cars are owned by an individual or a single family. And yet this model does not reflect the increased urbanisation, economic shifts or changes in transportation requirements that have developed over the past 100 years.

The next decade will be the most revolutionary in the history of the automotive industry.

However, the rise of social mobility businesses such as Uber and Lyft demonstrates a demand for more flexible transport that is low-cost and on-demand. With over 1 million rides per day booked through Uber alone in 2014 and growing year-on-year, a new transport paradigm has been established. In this context, autonomous technologies will truly come to the fore.

The role of autonomy

Autonomous taxis have the potential to dramatically reduce the number of cars on our roads, ease traffic, reduce emissions, and freeing new land for urban development.

As reported by Fortune, cars today spend 95% of their working life idle, parked by the side of the road, reducing traffic flow and requiring a vast parking infrastructure in urban areas. Converting private ownership to an autonomous fleet of EV taxis can complement existing public transport, removing the need for the personal expense of buying a vehicle and offering an on-demand mobility solution.

These cars will continuously roam the streets with minimal downtime, owing to their greater efficiency and reliability than combustion-powered cars. Furthermore, as the supporting software is honed, the vehicles will govern their own schedules for recharging and maintenance to reduce overheads for operators and therefore keep consumer costs at a minimum.

While this may seem far-fetched, one only needs to consider the rise of the mobile phone industry and the development of smartphones to realise how technological advances coupled with convenience marketing have led to their ubiquity.

Furthermore, with a contracting working population globally, autonomous EVs present new transportation opportunities for the young, the elderly, the disabled and the poor alike by blending the accessibility and convenience of personal transport with the affordability and reach of public mobility.

The next decade will be the most revolutionary in the history of the automotive industry. The revolution has already begun.

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