If a recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report proves accurate, shared self-driving cars, also called autonomous vehicles (AVs), will represent one out of every four miles driven by 2030. Will you be zipping around maybe with a couple of strangers in a driverless car you don’t own 13 years from now? Hard to tell — but more than likely, it’ll depend on where you live.
There’s little question autonomous technology will be far enough along by 2030 for there to be commercial self-driving cars and trucks operating along preset routes and within predetermined corridors. In fact, the only barriers to widespread consumer use of AVs by that date will have more to do with nontechnical issues such as regulations, insurance and AV price tags. If you think new cars are expensive now, hold on to your hat for cars crammed full of autonomous technology.
The future of mobility as viewed by BCG and many other industry watchers calls for the inevitability of 1) AVs, 2) Electric Propulsion and 3) Ride Sharing. That is, personal transportation will eventually be comprised of folks sharing electric-powered, autonomous vehicles. The best guess is that consumers will summon driverless cars using whatever passes for the smartphone app of tomorrow to take them where they need to go. Got it: autonomy, electric and sharing.
Economy of Scale
The farther away from the center of a big city like Boston, Chicago or New York you are, the less likely it is you’ll be on the cutting edge BCG foresees. Economy of scale will have much to do with where and how rapidly average citizens adopt BCG’s vision. AVs, at least in the near future, will be outrageously expensive. Because they won’t require an alert human at the wheel, they can theoretically operate 24/7 until the wheels fall off. That’s good for car-sharing services like Uber, because each AV can then make money 24 hours a day.
With so many potential customers packed into busy urban areas, car-sharing AVs have a better chance to stay busy. The denser the population in any given area, the less expensive it is to operate a car-sharing AV. Moreover, congested urban areas typically have more vehicles than parking spaces. AVs, particularly ones in a car-sharing fleet, never need to park. Or they can seek out parking outside the crowded downtown corridors.
More Power, Scotty
Although battery ranges are improving somewhat, current battery technology means electric vehicles are best suited for the shorter distances of urban areas. By 2030, hydrogen fuel-cell electric cars should be more prolific, at least on the two coasts, which will remove the stigma of range anxiety from electric cars — but in the meantime, electric vehicles will primarily roam downtown streets.
What it means to you: BCG’s view of the future is probably fairly accurate. Whether you participate, though, depends on where you live, work and play.