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

I am the Manager of Transportation Sustainability at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Recently, I won the William Barclay Parsons fellowship for my research proposal to study how the United States government should respond to driverless cars. As I'm working on my research, I thought this blog would help to disseminate my findings and provide a forum for feedback.
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