That positive effect, you argue, holds true even without looking at autonomous driving…
Greenblatt: Exactly. So far, there is a big trade-off between a gasoline versus electric car. But the autonomous piece is critical because it enables a car to drive much more. An autonomous vehicle fleet manager will choose what lowers his or her costs, including electric vehicles. Even though you have the limited battery, range, and long recharge times, it doesn’t matter. You can still serve customers because those cars don’t need to run around the clock. For 70,000 miles per year, you only need to travel 200 miles per day. At an average speed of 20 miles per hour, ten hours per day are sufficient, and that leaves plenty of time for recharging. They can also make several trips before they have to stop to recharge because urban trips tend to be quite short. In New York, each ride is about 2.5 miles, and a typical U.S. trip is about ten miles. If the battery range averages 60-80 miles, you can still fulfil quite a few rides before you have to recharge.
People still want to own and drive their own cars. How many of today’s vehicles do you expect to be replaced by automated e-taxis?
Saxena: Knowing how many autonomous cars there will be in the future is hard to predict. We modelled it with two scenarios for 2030. If only five percent of all new vehicle sales were autonomous taxis, it would come to around 800,000 cars per year, which is quite a conservative number. The higher number we used was 10 percent of the 2030 vehicle fleet, or about 25 million cars, which is not inconsistent with what some analysts predict. Owning a personal car has had a lot of benefits, but those advantages are eroding because autonomous technology makes a shared vehicle much more appealing, convenient and cheaper to use.
Can you describe some advantages of a shared autonomous fleet?
Saxena: You have a car that’s there when you need it, on both ends. You don’t have to worry about where to park. It’s always new, clean, fuelled and ready to go. Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to drive it, you can do other things. When used as a taxi, you can also take the driver’s salary out of the mix. Even when you factor in expensive autonomous technology, which runs as much as $150,000 today, it still costs less in total operating costs. And there’s something else to consider. Some experts estimate that up to one-third of a city’s area is used for parking. If parking is freed up, it can transform cities. You could widen sidewalks, put in cafés, street gardens and trees.