Many predictions are fielded, but few are chosen. With 2017 fully underway, it’s now possible to sober up a little about the future direction of cars.
First, Silicon Valley is not going to manufacture automobiles. Not EV, and not AV either. That the Valley would not enter the competitive, low-margin business of auto manufacturing was never a difficult forecast to make. That said, this excellent wrap-up of the current scene from John McElroy at Autoblog, The race for autonomous cars is over. Silicon Valley lost., succinctly makes a case for the the most rational, plausible outcome: the Valley will dominate the data around cars, leaving their production to those who know best. I’d only add an additional point of support to this conclusion: the example of Tesla is already serving as a teaching-story to the Valley. Musk’s success clarifies, interestingly, that there’s no need for technologists to follow or duplicate his auto-manufacturing pathway. This is especially true if you understand that Tesla is becoming a battery and energy storage company.
Second, it’s finally more widely understood that chatting about a future of Autonomous Vehicles is effortless, but creating that future will take time. Lots of time. Chris Mims over at the WSJ wrote a good update on the issue last September, Self-Driving Hype Doesn’t Reflect Reality. We are at the beginning, not the end point, of fully autonomous vehicle engineering. There is still a great deal of material to be worked out in mapping, vehicle negotiation of unmapped obstacles and hazards, and the short-cycle updating required to fully pair an AV to the built environment. And we will still have the Trolly Problem to confront when fully autonomous AV are ready to deploy.
Finally, the EV are coming. Norway, (yes, a small country), is looking to ensure through tax incentives that EV will constitute 100% of new car sales by 2025. But Norway is already getting its EV on. In 2015, over 20% of new sales were EV. Meanwhile, in the large country category, China just announced that new entrants to Beijing’s taxi fleet would only be open to EV, starting this year. Also, Tesla has now done its first 1$ billion in sales, confirming China will be a major market for Musk’s company. Most important is that China is now consuming nearly half the total global sales of EV. For a country that still consumes half the world’s coal, that’s encouraging.
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