Will Driverless Cars be Electric-Powered?

All signs point to yes; however, the current rates of electric vehicle adoption don’t necessarily reflect that!  The U.S. Energy Information Administration stated:

In 2013, there were about 70,000 battery electric vehicles (EVs) and 104,000 plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)—small numbers compared to around 226 million registered vehicles in the United States. Total U.S. sales of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) have increased in recent years, but still represent only about 0.7% of new vehicle sales in 2014 so far, up from 0.6% in 2013 and 0.4% in 2012. California is home to almost half of all of the nation’s PEVs, but even in California, only about 5 out of every 1,000 registered vehicles are PEVs. (source)

The good news is that many of the companies developing driverless cars are doing so with electric vehicles (specifically, Google, Tesla, Easy Mile, and Navya). Additionally, many states are adopting tax incentives for people who purchase electric vehicles and adding electric charging infrastructure.  I’ve also noticed that most studies that forecast the impacts of driverless cars assume that the vehicles will be electric, so the environmental and cost benefits are improved.

There are still a few roadblocks that need to be worked out. Electric cars are, to many, prohibitively expensive. A recent study suggests that these costs are likely going to fall annually (which is not uncommon with technology). Additionally, this Forbes article outlines how the charging infrastructure is currently a proprietary network of stations, so “if you get locked into one network, you may have difficulty charging at other locations, or pay exorbitant costs.”

I expect these issues and others to be addressed in the coming years and I’m hopeful that the coming of driverless vehicles may even accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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