It seems like a futuristic fantasy, something ripped straight from the pages of Science Fiction, but believe it or not self-driving taxi cabs are already on city streets. While it may be some time before we see this en masse in every major city, these vehicles are going to fundamentally change how we own and operate our cars.
The Ride-Hailing Revolution
Its no secret that the major automotive manufacturers have taken a big interest in ride-hailing services. In fact, many of them have either invested heavily in or outright purchased growing ride-hailing startups. GM, Toyota, Volkswagen, and BMW have spent some serious cash on ride-hailing services, but the question is why?
Well beyond a quick way to expand their fleet divisions, these investments point directly to the future of car ownership. We are already seeing many people starting to rely on Uber and Lyft as a supplement to their everyday driving. Simply people are driving less and holding on to their existing vehicles longer and if the trend continues the automotive industry will see profits take a major hit unless of course, they begin to supply the vehicles for those services.
Don't believe me? It's already happening, GM and Lyft recently expanded their express drive partnership and will go one step further by giving Lyft drivers the ability to be among the first who can get their hands on the long-awaited Chevy Bolt. While ride-hailing is an important piece to the puzzle it still only supplements daily driving, not replace it, that is until you remove the driver.
The Driverless Future
The big reason the major automotive manufacturers have focused on ride-hailing services isn't just to continue to sell vehicles, its also to open up brand new revenue streams. Today, a traditional vehicle (EV or ICE) costs between $0.70 and $1.50 per mile to operate, traditional taxis are about four times as expensive, and ride-hailing services are close to double. While this makes ride-hailing a nice selling point it hardly shifts the industry, that is until the car drives itself.
Traditional Vehicle Ownership: $0.70 - $1.50/mile
Taxi Cab: $2.80 - $6/mile
Ride-Hailing Service (Uber/Lyft): $1.40 - $3.00/mile
Autonomous vehicles with ride-hailing or sharing: ~$1.00/mile
Autonomous vehicles with a ride-hailing or sharing could reduce the cost to about $1 per mile on par or even less than personal ownership and it starts to dip even lower when the vehicles are electric. When the cost of outright owning a car is more expensive than simply hopping in a cab you will see millions of people ditching GM's famous two cars in every garage mantra. Not to mention a vehicle that can improve safety, convenience, and congestion.
If that happens the automakers who didn't get on the bandwagon will be left out in the cold and its why much of the industry is scrambling to get involved early on. However, there is one final missing piece to consider, chargers.
The Future Needs Plugs
Charging stations are the key that unlocks the self-driving future. Generating electricity is easy enough the problem is building the facilities to handle it. Simply put, city buildings were never designed to power vehicles, and as such many parking structures have little power to access and getting more isn’t as simple as flipping a switch.
In many cities getting additional power is no simple request. The infrastructural build out cost is the real stumbling block. Most buildings can expect to see costs anywhere from $25K to well over $100K to add only a handful of stations let along ten of thousands. Scaling that cost out over an entire city and this becomes a multi-million dollar proposal. While doable, is it money well spent?
Instead of wasting hundreds of millions on a massive infrastructure build out, cities and automakers should focus on utilizing smart chargers that maximize the existing power systems. This allows for the necessary stations to be built while keeping costs at a minimum.
Get ready because the future is here and a lot of things are about to change.