By Haden Kirkpatrick.
Over the last two decades, fully electric cars have had, let’s say, a slow start. In 1997, the Toyota Prius was released as the world’s first mass-produced hybrid. And while hybrid technology has taken off, drivers have been hesitant to accept fully battery-powered tech for a variety of reasons, including a lack of charging stations. But things are looking up for electric. Today you can get a full charge at one of the 16,000 stations across the US.
Plus, battery costs are rapidly decreasing and the public is warming up to the idea of electric cars. In fact, some experts predict electric vehicles (EVs) to account for 65 percent to 75 percent of sales in 2050—which is also good news for the environment.
Another hot topic in the auto world is autonomous rides. Though we’re still several years away (at least) from robots taking the wheel, some cities in America—Las Vegas, Phoenix and Pittsburgh, to name a few—have already seen self-driving vehicles in action. In the future, autonomous vehicles and battery-powered technology could work together to create cleaner, more efficient roads.
Electric Vehicles: Right Now. Maybe you’ve ridden in an EV. Maybe you own a Tesla Model X or Audi e-tron. For the most part, they look, sound and act like a traditional car, but there’s one major difference: their engines run on batteries and not on internal combustion powered by fossil fuels. The pros of going gasless include reduced maintenance costs, lower fuel expense and—most importantly—less pollution. However, electric vehicles are currently more expensive than traditional vehicles. Some experts believe battery costs will continue to decline over the next 10 years, which will further entice shoppers. In fact, from 2014 to 2016, battery prices fell by 50 percent, allowing EVs to gain some traction.
Driverless Vehicles: Right Now. No, they’re not straight out of a sci-fi movie. The term autonomous vehicle (AV) can refer to a car, a truck or even a drone. These vehicles operate on computer intelligence with varying levels of human assistance. Self-driving cars come decked out with intelligence you might not see: sensors, radars and cameras to virtually scan the road, with a ton of processing power under the hood to handle the data streams from all those input sensors. Currently, several laws and regulations stand in the way of a driverless reality, but automakers and tech giants continue to refine their robot rides because they know they’re the next big thing.
Should All AVs Be Battery-Powered? Consider this: At the root of driverless technology is convenience. Humans will no longer have to stress about driving. But the consequences could be harmful. For example, you arrive home from the grocery store and realize you forgot the milk. No problem — just send the car back to fetch it. That’s now two trips back and forth to the grocery store where there might have only been one. Can’t find a parking spot at a baseball game? Your self-driving vehicle can just drive around in circles for three hours. While it’s a much more convenient option, the environmental toll could be severe. Some experts predict that gas-powered, self-driving vehicles could wreak havoc on the environment, causing a 200 percent increase in emissions.
The solution? Make all AVs electric. A marriage of these two powerhouse technologies would completely change the auto industry, the environment and our lives. As Esurance found in a recent report, AVs could also be a cheaper option for consumers—potentially made cheaper still if those AVs are electric. There are still a few variables on the table, but it’s safe to say a clean, green electric AV would significantly reduce air pollution.
Fewer Traffic Jams, Less Pollution. Being gridlocked on the highway doesn’t just make you late for dinner, it also damages the environment. In 2012, a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that traffic congestion was responsible for 56 billion pounds of carbon dioxide pollution. But in the future, AVs will be able to talk to each other (vehicle-to-vehicle communication) or infrastructure (vehicle-to-infrastructure communication). This will lead to perfectly synchronized driving patterns. Just think—no braking for red lights, stop signs or traffic. And with orchestrated driving on battery power, emissions could be reduced drastically.
Ownership Could Look Different. Here’s a fact: The average car spends 95 percent of its life in park. In the future, sharing an electric vehicle might be standard. Imagine this – you hail a nearby ride to pick you up and take you to work. Rather than sitting (or driving) idle, the vehicle calls on its next passenger and continues to do so until it needs a full charge. This scenario could drive down transportation prices considerably while also reducing the need for consumers to own cars, eliminating environmental waste.
What’s Next for Electric Self-Driving Cars? For self-driving cars to accelerate EV adoption, it will be a collective effort. Policymakers need to establish regulation and demand cleaner vehicles. Automakers and tech giants must continue to raise the bar and push for battery power. And of course, it’ll take the confidence of consumers to trust the clean, self-driving machines and put them to use.
Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance. Haden is an innovator and futurist who is constantly thinking about how IoT, self-driving cars and machine learning will impact the auto insurance industry. Learn more about Esurance by visiting Esurance.com.