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The political, economic and social drivers behind autonomous and electric vehicles

Mobility consultant Lukas Neckermann sums up the main reasons why autonomous and electric vehicles look destined to be the future of transportation

Reducing accidents, making transport cleaner and economic potential are among the key drivers for a future of autonomous and electric vehicles, according to an industry expert.

Lukas Neckermann, managing director of “mobility revolution” consultancy Neckermann Strategic Advisors, believes there is a “very clear case” for promoting both types of transportation, saying the work to bring self-driving cars to market and increase the adoption of EVs will also create jobs.

Speaking at the Smart Transportation and Mobility conference in London today (11 April), he said: “Zero emissions is the promise for electric, while the promise of reducing accidents and perhaps congestion is what’s making autonomous vehicles so appealing in political terms.”

“We have a convergence of change and transformation, which is quite promising – particularly in countries like the UK.”


Political and economic reasons for introducing autonomous and electric vehicles

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 US states have enacted legislation to enable autonomous vehicle testing.

Some of the most prominent of these have been in California, where Alphabet-owned Waymo has run tests for the past decade, while Arizona was infamously the scene of a collision involving a self-driving Uber test car that killed a pedestrian last year.

There are also more than 50 pilots taking place in Europe and Australia, with the UK home to a number of testbeds in cities including London, Coventry and Milton Keynes.

Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-Benz AI, companies using AI
Mercedes-Benz is using AI in autonomous cars (Credit: Daimler)

“That’s because of the promise of autonomous vehicles, particularly in the ride-hailing space, is worth more than £1tn at the very least,” said Mr Neckermann.

While Google and Uber have predictably been some of the biggest investors in this space, Japanese conglomerate SoftBank has also been a major player.

Its Vision Fund backed General Motors’ self-driving car division Cruise to the tune of $2.3bn in May 2018 and added robot delivery van maker to its portfolio in a $940m investment in February this year.

But Mr Neckermann said changes in how people use vehicles – namely the move from ownership to mobility-as-a-service through car-sharing platforms such as Zipcar and its competitors – means business models will have to adapt.

He added: “Just keep in mind that the KPIs will be relevant in the future won’t be about how many cars are sold but how many miles are sold.

“The next time a car manufacturer’s CEO says ‘we sold one million cars last year’, who cares?

“Stakeholders will want to know how many miles have been delivered.”


Social reasons and challenges in introducing autonomous and electric vehicles

One of the biggest challenges to be considered is the impact autonomous and electric vehicles will have on society.

Mr Neckermann said:  “We need to make sure people are comfortable with autonomous vehicles.

“That means we need to prioritise safety above all else, whether it’s five-times, eight-times or ten-times safer than a human behind the wheel.

“We have to convince people to get into an autonomous car and it has to deliver on the promise of reducing accidents in a similar way to how we have, by and large, reduced the number of air accidents to a minimum.”

Lukas Neckermann, managing director of mobility consultancy Neckermann Strategic Advisors, speaks at the Smart Transportation and Mobility conference in London

Societal pressures on petrol and diesel cars mean clean engines are looked upon favourably, with the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change urging the British government to bring forward a ban on fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030 due to the “significant threat” they pose to human health.


Technology behind autonomous and electric vehicles

Ongoing technological advancement makes the business case “crystal clear” for the development of autonomous and electric vehicles, believes Mr Neckermann,

He cites how improvements in electric engines are increasing between 10% and 15% each year, a standard the combustible engine can’t keep up with.

The desire to buy clean cars is also supported by financial incentives such as grants and a legislative environment that increasingly penalises petrol and diesel vehicles, such as high car tax rates and the new ultra low emission zone in London.

Mr Neckermann said: “We’re getting to the point where the electric vehicle is the cheapest option for individual drivers, fleet operators, cities and potentially even the automobile industry.

“It’s where the future lies. The fastest vehicles in the world are in fact electric.

“So electric isn’t just about clean air, it can be fun too.”

In driverless vehicles, the level of autonomy is also improving on a regular basis.

Discussion regarding the most imminent cars equipped with this technology mainly revolves around level three autonomy – in which all aspects of driving can be done by the vehicle, but requires human presence in case they need to intervene.

But already some level four autonomous vehicles – those that can be driven without any human intervention – are visible in shuttles within controlled environments such as airports.

Mr Neckermann added: “So what we need to consider next is how we move those vehicles into bus lanes and dedicated environments to make them happen today.”