Autonomous Electrified Vehicles May Become Common in the Near Future

Electrified vehicles could make the most sense for the self-driving car of the future, according to a commentary piece in Detroit Free-Press.

Scanning the test tracks points in this direction, with Uber testing the Ford Fusion Hybrid in Pittsburgh, Google using the Toyota Prius Hybrid and its own electric self-driving test cars, and the Chevy Bolts being tested in San Francisco and Phoenix.

How will hybrids and plug-ins go beyond being a small chuck of U.S. new vehicle sales (less than 3 percent) to a much larger share? That’s where autonomous vehicles could come into the game. The regulatory structure is one driving factor behind it, along with the mechanical benefits of plug-in electrified vehicles versus internal combustion engines, according to Detroit Free-Press.

The regulatory structure with mileage requirements is the starting point, according to Detroit Free-Press. The standards may vary by the model mix and popularity of trucks, SUVs, and cars, but a substantial portion of electrified vehicles will be needed to achieve the goals, according to the commentary.

Automakers and technology suppliers expect autonomous vehicles to be more efficient and safe than what’s on U.S. roads today. PEVs play right into the efficiency argument with what it takes to keep them on the roads and to repair and maintain.

“There are a lot fewer moving pieces in an electric vehicle. There are three main components — the battery, the inverter and the electric motor,” said Levi Tillemann-Dick, managing partner at Valence Strategic in Washington, D.C., and author of “The Great Race: The Global Quest for the Car of the Future.” “An internal combustion engine contains 2,000 tiny pieces that have to be kept lubricated and they break every once in a while.”

Some automakers are seeing automated and electrified vehicles as lowering the cost of ownership in a consumer culture that’s questing whether to buy another new car. As the price point becomes more competitive with gas-engine cars and the range extends on electric cars, it’s making more sense to invest more in PEVs.

“One of the biggest changes will be in the growing difference in cost of ownership between electrified and internal combustion engines,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said last week. Fields reiterated Ford Motor Co.’s pledge to spend $4.5 billion to introduce 13 new electric vehicle models by 2020 during his comments.

Another market force to consider is the fast uptick in ridership at ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft.

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These drivers are using their cars more intensely – up to about 40% during a 24-hour day versus less than five percent for privately-owned vehicles sitting in driveways and parking lots, Tillemann-Dick estimates. That will be helped by PEVs seeing range increase such as the Chevy Bolt able to go 238 miles on a charge.

As lithium-ion batteries improve and become cheaper, that’s expected to make the cost of ownership more attractive to ride-hailing drivers. Ford estimates it will be able to produce a lithium-ion battery system at $120 per kWH by 2020 and drive that down to $85 by 2030. That would be a 40 percent lower cost for a system with capacity equal to what the Bolt will be able to do after its launch this year.

As Uber, Lyft, and other on-demand mobility companies grow, the cost of owning, fueling and maintaining these vehicles will be less than the cost of paying drivers and fueling the vehicles with gasoline. Self-driving electric cars will be a lot more cost effective that gas-engine cars driven by human drivers.

“The only caveat I’d offer is that you can do an autonomous car with an internal combustion engine, but what is going to drive the Ubers and Lyfts to opt for EVs is reliability and lower fuel cost,” Tillemann-Dick said.

Detroit Free-Press