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While EVs Slow, AVs See Open Road Ahead

When you get past the Tesla-fueled hype—the Elon Musk cheerleading, the various super- and hyper- prefixes in front of the requisite infrastructure—the renaissance of the electric car has been mostly underwhelming. Tesla’s approach has been to tout the sexy, high-end models first to help stoke demand for the product. Other carmakers like Nissan and Chevy have lower-end models already on the road, but as the NYT reports, demand is lagging:

[In Santa Monica, the] wealthy, environmentally conscious city of 90,000 west of Los Angeles, only a core group of owners has switched from traditional gasoline-powered cars…Less than 4 percent of registered cars run only on battery power…

For now, automakers’ push to sell electric cars “has sparked sales to early adopters but has failed to encourage mainstream consumers,” said Jean François Tremblay, director at Ernst & Young’s Global Automotive Center.

It’s not hard to see why. Consumers still have to pay a premium for the right to drive a car with a shorter range than a typical gas-powered or hybrid vehicle. Charging takes more time than filling up at the pump, and the stations are, in most places, few and far between. Wonkblog has a list of five things that need to happen before EVs attain a more considerable market share. The list includes some obvious suggestions like cheaper batteries and more extensive charging networks, but it also points out the need for more consistent policy support.

Meanwhile, as EVs are still approaching the on-ramp, a driverless car revolution is already beginning to hit highway speeds. The Economist is singing the praises of automated driving, imagining a slew of knock-on benefits the new technology will bring:

Autonomous vehicles’ most transformative contribution might be what they get up to when people aren’t in the vehicles. One suddenly has access to cheap, fast, ultra-reliable, on-demand courier service. Imagine never having to run out for milk or a missing ingredient again. Imagine dropping a malfunctioning computer into a freight AV to be ferried off to a repair shop and returned, all without you having to do anything. Imagine inventories at offices, shops and so on refilling constantly and as needed: assuming “shops” is still a meaningful concept in a world where things all come to you.

That’s in addition to: the extra time we’ll have to get stuff done during the drive in to work; the increased gas mileage; and the greater road safety automated cars will bring.

As EVs continue to struggle, it’s AVs that are looking more and more like the cars of our future.

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  • Y.K.

    The juxtaposition is not justified – EVs are cars using an electric motor while AVs are cars using an automatic driver. These aren’t opposites. AVs would in fact remove some of the main complaints against EVs (one does not necessarily care how many times the car needs to recharge during a trip if one is not in the car, and the automatic driver would be able to calculate available range exactly).

  • lehnne

    AV cars controlled by software that the engineers have granted back door access to its off/on functions; who needs freedom of mobility. Do you think the political class will keep their autonomous mobility?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    What we will see first is an improved cruise control.

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