The breathless hype around driverless electric vehicles once promised an urban transport “revolution”, with claims that new technologies would ease congestion and eliminate harmful emissions. The potential benefits of these new technologies are stimulating both activity and anxiety in the auto industry – specifically around whether the cost of investment will be justified by profits from sales of new vehicles.
The initial enthusiasm for driverless vehicles has gradually subsided, as the difficulties with introducing such technologies at scale in cities become better understood. As I explain in my new book Driving Change: Travel in the 21st Century, the future of the car is likely to be less exciting than many suppose. Rather than a revolution, these innovations will offer gradual change, when – and indeed if – the auto industry can make it worthwhile.
Of course, electric motors will help to reduce tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. But commercial success is likely to depend on the optimal choice of battery chemistry to maximise the car’s range, while delivering long-life, lightweight and fast recharging cells. The recent decision by British inventor James Dyson to cancel his electric car project highlights the risks for new entrants.