Tony Seba: Rise Of Autonomous EVs Is About To Change Everything

Tony Seba on autonomous EV impact

Tony Seba predicts the cost of Transport as a Service (TaaS) vs. Individually owned (IO) cars.

With just one new technology, according to author and Silicon Valley investor Tony Seba, the world will undergo a disruption that will completely remake our cities, transportation – and thankfully, the world’s emission profile.

Speaking at the Robin Hood Investor’s Conference at the end of October, Seba identified the crucial technology as Level 4 autonomous vehicles (the five levels are described at Wikipedia).

His thesis is few people understand how fast disruptive technologies and business models are already converging: batteries, electric vehicles, autonomy, and the Uber model of transportation.

Three of these are very close to being disruptive now – it’s only Level 4 autonomy that’s missing. Once that arrives, Seba predicts a collapse in emissions, oil prices falling so far expensive extractions (oil sands, shale, and deepwater extraction) will end, and a construction boom that will completely reshape our cities.

Why is autonomy the linchpin of all this? Because, Seba explained, autonomy will tip a vital balance that destroys the economics of owning a car. Modelling how this plays out in America: with no driver required and a falling cost of electric vehicles, there’s no sense in borrowing $50,000 over five years to buy a car when people can have the transport they need for a $100 subscription and “10 cents a mile”.

The role of EVs in this transformation is crucial, because as a fleet purchase, the only reason the internal combustion engine still exists is that there aren’t enough EVs yet. But that can change very quickly: Seba said forecasters consistently forget technology adoption isn’t linear, it typically follows an S-curve.

S-Curve Adoption

That’s how it went with mobile phones: in 1985, McKinsey gave AT&T a prediction that there would be 900,000 mobiles in the year 2000, when in fact the number sold by that time was 100 million.

It also went that way for the car, which went from “essentially nothing” to 95% of the market in 20 years.

“From 11% to 80% happened in just ten years, while we built two new industries [cars and oil – editor], built a new road transportation system, and fought a major war”.

That’s how markets such as batteries, EVs, and autonomy will play out.

Seba reckons when a vehicle-maker can get a Level 4 autonomous EV past a regulator, the world will hit “peak car”. I have to agree with him and I’m going to blow my own horn a little, because writing for UK-founded technology site The Register in 2013, I reached a similar conclusion (even though my guesses back then were far more conservative than Seba’s). Since autonomous cars can trundle around 24 hours a day if needed, it scarcely makes sense to buy a car (and that’s going to be catastrophic for Detroit).

Seba said:

“On a per-mile basis, EVs are ten times cheaper to power than internal combustion engines. An EV has twenty-plus moving parts, versus two thousand-plus for the internal combustion engine.”

He said because there are so few moving parts, the EV is close to zero maintenance and makers are able to offer “infinite miles” warranties. However, even if prices fall to some degree, owning a vehicle with a 500,000 mile useful life won’t make sense, because autonomy will make the transport-as-a-service subscription model irresistible.

Especially for fleet owners. Cars operated by fleets rack up an average 100,000 miles per year, so

“over five years, you need one EV or three internal combustion engine automobiles”.

That’s where the disruption comes from, he said, with just a few examples of how much our lives and our world will be changed by the EV/batteries/autonomy and transport-as-a-service convergence.

He pointed to South Australia as an example of how battery technology is already causing “market trauma”: a battery with capacity just 2% of the state’s energy supply crashed the value of ancillary services (things like frequency stabilisation, which because of fast response means a battery is a natural supplier), and he predicts “peakers” (generators brought into service only at peaks) and baseload will follow soon enough.

Emissions Down, Disposable Income Up, Cities Reshaped

Seba believes within years of the arrival of Level 4 autonomy, oil prices will crash to between $20 and $25 (which is why so many extraction activities will cease), and the number of internal combustion engines will fall far enough to bring about a

“90% reduction in emissions” from transport by 2030, “not because of governments – in spite of them”.

And: flying in the face of eternal fretting (mostly from the conservative side of politics) that emissions reduction is too expensive, “we’ll get money back” – both as individuals and as societies.

The individual saving is simple: it costs around $6,000 a year (American figures) to own a car, so giving up ownership puts money directly into the consumer’s pocket. Seba reckons in America the end of private vehicle ownership will represent a “trillion dollar” increase in disposable income, a huge economic stimulus (which should help offset the harm coming from those industries that collapse).

At the societal level, there are savings everywhere you look – he believes there’s a trillion to save simply by people not driving (the road toll heading for zero).

And there’s a huge real estate opportunity coming, if the vehicle market shrinks by his predicted 80% (because cars are parked most of the time, a “useless use of space”). In Los Angeles alone, he said, the land freed from parking is bigger than three San Franciscos, which means a transformation in available green space, affordable housing, and potential business expansions.

Is there a downside to the disruption and transformation?

My natural pessimism says “yes” – but then again: excepting the climate impacts that weren’t considered in the 1910s, the radical transformation brought by “cars version 1-point-oh” was a huge benefit for both the economy and for peoples’ upwards mobility.

What do the thinkers among Solar Quotes’ readers think – are there alligators lurking below the surface of Seba’s vision?

About Richard Chirgwin

Richard Chirgwin is a journalist with more than 30 years' experience covering a wide range of technology topics, including electronics, telecommunications, computing and science.

Comments

  1. Laurens Bloem says

    I think it’s coming and I’m excited. I do think that ownership of a vehicle will stay high on the list of many though.
    But after you drive it to work / it drives you to work, you can let it do uber rides without you, so it will still be a lot cheaper to own a car that way.

    • I used to think thad I’d still want to own my favourite music on CDs… 🙂

      • Daniel Debreceny says

        LOL.

        Last CD played… 2005 … before cars had bluetooth/ipod/android connectivity?

        $6000 / yr ownership is pretty low … for anything other than the smallest car …

        $350 – registration / plates / taxes
        $500 – CTP
        $1000 – general insurance
        $500 – basic maintenance / inspections
        $2000 – fuel
        $300 tyres
        $100 cleaning (6× car wash, excludes detailing)
        $2300 / yr (10years) … double/triple this if you keep cars for 5yrs/3yrs.

        We’re up to $7500/yr for a 10yr old car (cheap & small).

        **@$20,000 purchase price … loan over 5years – $3000 interest.***

        Economics of owning an electric car are much worse due to current high upfront cost & associated insurances on “premium” vehicles.

  2. Ronald Brakels says

    Note we should, for general robo-taxi use at least, ban the subscription model. Elderly Australians stand to benefit the most from self driving taxis and it is seriously freaking stupid to allow companies to put a barrier between them and cheaper taxi use. Seriously, we all benefit if my father decides that robo-taxis are so cheap he will give up maintaining and driving a car, but he sure as hell ain’t paying no subscription for it. He’ll run you over in a fit of distracted senior moment first.

  3. Ray McNamara says

    I need to understand how autonomous vehicles will reduce car drivership/ ownership.
    I understand the consequences of achieving that goal.
    But how is the transformation going to occur?
    Nobody travels to work?
    Nobody travels to buy food?
    Nobody travels to go to school?

    I am thinking hard!! But, I am perplexed.
    Ray

    • Ronald Brakels says

      When you get down to it, it’s just cheaper taxis. Very roughly about one-fourth to one-third of the cost of a taxi trip is paying the driver. A small portion of the fare also covers insurance which allows for the cost of the human propensity to smack into things. If the cost of taxis drops by one-third you’d find more people using them and giving up on private ownership. With more taxis on the road, using them will be more convenient. There’s also room for additional cost reductions thanks to the low cost of fuel and maintenance for electric vehicles.

      The improvement in efficiency that results from this technology will make society society richer and more than able to deal with the effect of disemployment. Or we could, you know, give me a tax cut instead and say the benefits will trickle down. A large number of Australians have been trickled on for a long time now.

      • AaronReibelt says

        Hmmm, I don’t know about anyone else but living in a Smart city with Smart cars and Smart toothbrushes etc is not my idea of fun.
        Google Brent Walkers Climate Grand Solar Minimum for the Actuarial Institute Conference and get some real science into you. 😉

        • Ronald Brakels says

          Don’t worry, there are plenty of places that are still plenty dumb.

          While we’re on that topic, a lot of people don’t understand what solar minimums are. If you look at the temperature record over the past 100 years it’s easy to spot the general upwards trend, but what is hard to make out is the effect of the 11 year solar cycle on temperatures. So if the current solar minimum results in twice the usual reduction in solar output — which is not expected — it’s only going to have twice the usual effect on temperatures. That is, not much.

          Of course, we’re still lucky from a temperature point of view that we’ve head into a solar minimum rather than a solar maximum right now.

          • Daniel Debreceny says

            https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/03/18/approaching-grand-solar-minimum-could-cause-global-cooling/

            “But what has become more apparent based on more recent research from NASA is that we are now in a period of very few or no sunspots. This has coincided with the brutal winter we are going through now.”

            So .. ignoring the southern hemisphere with the “brutal” summers that are getting worse … is this US centric – ie; small picture?

          • Ronald Brakels says

            I don’t know about what kind of weather the US has been experiencing and the ups and downs in temperature that can make a winter feel brutal, but looking at the average US temperature so far for this year I see it is well above the 100 year average.

          • I’ve just found this somewhat priceless example of news on SBS

            https://www.sbs.com.au/news/venice-council-floods-minutes-after-rejecting-measures-to-tackle-climate-change

            The text reads: ‘A regional Italian council based in Venice has flooded for the first time in its history, minutes after it voted AGAINST measures to tackle carbon emissions.

            Italy on Thursday declared a state of emergency for Venice after an exceptional tide surged through churches, shops and homes, causing millions of euros worth of damage to the UNESCO city.’

            It’s never a good idea to ‘ignore’ reality in the hope that it will go away. It won’t.

      • Tony Jacques says

        So everyone switches to cheaper taxis. Abandon trains and buses because the taxi is more comfortable, door-to-door and cheaper. But what a traffic jam at peak hour ! You’re going to have hundreds more autonomous taxis on the road than the roads can handle.

    • “Nobody travels to work?
      Nobody travels to buy food?
      Nobody travels to go to school?”

      People still travel to work. Let’s say your home is 10 miles from work, you leave at 8:30, and would prefer to get there by 8:50. With transportation as a service, you might have the choice of riding alone in a computer-driven luxury car for 50 cents a mile, or $5. Or you might ride alone in a mediocre care for 40 cents a mile, or $4; or a real budget car for 30 cents a mile, or $3. Or you might choose to have a single stop, where you get into a minivan with 3 other people for 10 cents a mile, but you get to work at 8:55 or 9:00, rather than your preferred time of 8:50.

      The reason the total number of cars is so dramatically reduced is that a single car that picks you up at 8:30 and drops you off at 8:50 can have been picking up and dropping off people since 5 AM, and can continue to pick up and drop off people throughout the whole day while you’re at work. Plus, many people will probably go for the minivan option, so one vehicle will hold more than one person, unlike typical driving to work now.

      Regarding food: No, people probably will *not* drive to buy food. What will make the most sense when vehicles are computer-driven is that a computer-driven vehicle will deliver you food right to your driveway. That way, you don’t have to spend time at the store, and the store can become dimly lit warehouse, with items stacked to the ceiling (and retrieved by robots).

      School will be like work…right now, school buses sit all night and all during the school day. With autonomous buses, the buses will look like regular buses, and will be used before, during, and after school. In fact, the standard school bus system now of bus stops that pick up or drop off a few children at a time will be less necessary, because children will be able to ride alone in autonomous vehicles. (They will be safe, because there will be a complete video record of the child getting into and out of the car.)

      That’s how the number of vehicles is dramatically reduced, and why no one will need to own a car.

      • Well, sort of but not quite. The problem is equivalent to maximum bandwidth; most people still want to travel at the same time – peak hour. You still need enough vehicles on the road to handle that peak, but it will mean that at other times you wont need to wait as long for a robo-taxi.
        So, yes I suspect there will be a significant reduction in total vehicles, but it probably wont be as high as 80% – and I suspect we will still have buses & trains for a while yet.
        In fact I predict there will be a middle-demographic that decides to abandon car ownership in favour of taking the bus, and only getting a robo-taxi for unplanned trips & emergencies.

    • 95% of the time your car just sits there doing nothing.
      So if you own a car it can go off and make you money.
      If you don’t you click on your cell phone and a car comes and takes you to work. And flip that for coming home.

  4. Stefan Jarnason says

    Seba is bang on the money. This will be one of the largest and most rapid shifts in how our society operates

    • Daniel Debreceny says

      +1

      Car ownership will be the domain of the wealty, the insane, of the mathematically challenged.

      There are massive reductions in costs & time required for upkeep of a personal car, and massive reductions in public car transport (elimination of expensive labour) will see very quick adoption of the shared-car model. #airbnb

      Millenials are already in this zone, relying on uber & car sharing services.

  5. Predicting the future is a game fraught with pitfalls.

    The disruption thesis works great in cities so I can see it having a big impact once all those pesky things like regulators and human drivers are dealt with.

    But for those living outside highly populated areas, calling a taxi isn’t really feasible if your nearest neighbour is 20 kms away and your nearest taxi service is 150 kms away.

    Plus this all kind of ignores the fact that people actually like the freedom owning a car gives them, and believe it or not, some people actually enjoy driving. One final thing – the economic model described falls outside what a lot of people can afford. Sure if you can afford to buy a $50,000 dollar vehicle or more every 3-4 years then it’s cheaper. But then if you can afford that do you really want to take taxis everywhere. Unloading and reloading the car every time with your gear.

    I don’t really know – if that’s all you’ve ever known it might be enough. Plenty of people don’t drive and it’s probably already cheaper now not to own a car if you have decent public transport. But most people still choose to drive, so my thesis is there is more to this than pure economics.

    • Daniel Debreceny says

      Taxis are an expensive option vs personal car ownership.
      At the point where automous electric vehicles replace Taxis at 1/4 of the cost …. 90% of the population will make the jump.

      In populated areas, car parking is a) expensive, and b) time consuming.
      In less populated areas, small towns, parking lots are massive.

      Autonomous vehicles drop you off to the doors of where you are going, and then pick you up where you come out … saves 10minutes vs walking though a dangerous carpark occupied by vehicles driven by incompetent morons looking at their phones.

      The massive reductions in carparks (1 autonomous car can service 10 people/couples/families), frees up real-estate for much something much more useful (parks, homes, restaurants, etc).

      Autonomous vehicles could very cause make real-estate prices to plummet over the 10years after adoption.

  6. Just what we need, encourage more people into cars and out of mass public transit. Peak hour congestion will still exist. It’ll just be worse.

    Ideas like this also hinge on capacity utilisation factors. Like electricity, demand for such an on-demand transport option is not steady across a day, week and year. The available supply of such rides and the service standards are going to be modelled and service provided based on the same sort of Erlang cueing theory calculations used by call centres.

    There will only be so many vehicles available at any one time, and that will always be fewer than peak demand times (else the economics don’t work), but too many for most times of the day (else service standards will be awful).

    Right now we have large sections of the country on fire alert. You think these people are going to wait for a ride share vehicle to show up based on a cueing algorithm? Not on your life, or mine for that matter. We’ll have a vehicle at the ready to go whenever we damn well need it.

    • Daniel Debreceny says

      Fringe cases will always exist.

      Even with 100% spare capacity to handle “surges” the total quantity of cars on the road will be vastly reduced .. and then there is rideshare … like uber-Pool.

      Removing the humans from transport this result in unbelievably cheap personalised public transport …

      I feel that you are underestimate the time that people spend idle, in traffic and performing menial tasks, like parking, in motorway congestion, parking lot congestion, police wasting time on speed cameras, police wasting time fining/arresting bad drivers ….

  7. The one thing we can be completely confident about is that today’s politicians will stuff up any ‘transition’ to EV’s completely.

    I’d be ‘pretty sure’ that our own transport experts will already have some good ideas and thoughts on how a transition to EV’s could be achieved with minimum pain, simply because they’ll have taken notice of how other countries have gone about making such a transition, and what ‘mistakes’, ‘good decisions’, and ‘unexpected outcomes’ those locations found out about along their way. But of course any advice will be ignored.

    As well, the existing revenue from fuel excise taxes will need to be replaced as some of it is allocated to the maintenance of existing roads and highways, which are the responsibility of the Feds, while a portion also goes to the various states to help them maintain the roads they are responsible for. None of the States will be enthusiastic about reduced revenue.

    That raises the possibility is that owners of EV’s will be required to pay some form of fixed levy in order to compensate for the loss of excise tax revenue that will occur. eg. a ‘contribution to road maintenance’ or similar. The amount of that could be based on some average per vehicle calculation of the implied excise revenue that would have been gained if said vehicle was a petrol one.

    Another issue is the sheer diversity of individual and industry demand requirements. An EV’ solution’ that’s suitable for a household living in Broome WA might not work for a family living on the outskirts of Sydney, or a tradie who racks up big mileage in his utility driving from job to job in Brisbane .

    If a few million households start to need another 25 to 75 kwh per day per household so they can charge their EV’s up, I’m not optimistic as to how quickly that could be achieved. ‘Hybrid’ vehicles might be part of the solution in some cases though

    As well, there’s a plethora of ‘conflicting objectives’ and ‘EXISTING unresolved problems’ around too.

    The first of those is still the state of the national grid and the generation of electricity. The Fed’s and some States want to build nuclear power plants, carry on mining coal and continue fracking, despite the fact that just about everybody in Australia disagrees with them and would prefer ‘renewables’ as a generation source instead, with solar PV and wind the choices favoured by most. The issues associated with this situation haven’t gone away, but they’ll probably be solved by default – the end-users will by and large do their own thing and could care less about what the Government does.

    Major problems are already clearly seen emerging in seaside residential and business locations as a consequence of extreme weather events combined with rising sea levels. On top of that are the already upon us beginnings of the impact of rising temperatures and the increase in the severity and frequency of bush-fires with the implications that has for future food supply.

    Now, we can all debate the details, but ‘Government’ and/or communities are very likely going to be faced with increasingly massive outlays in order to fix rising levels of damage caused to infra-structure, buildings and residences etc.

    With that comes added social security and assistance payments for people whose homes have been destroyed, along with their jobs and income sources. And of course rather large losses of tax revenue by government. Businesses that no longer exist won’t be paying any taxes.

    But those are just the beginning of the problems. I don’t know how many people are employed directly or indirectly in the automotive and ancillary industries but there’s likely to be a lot of them. The transport and logistics sector employs around half a million people according to this website here:
    https://nationalindustryinsights.aisc.net.au/industries/transport/transport-and-logistics

    People affected range from the ‘Mum and Dad’ family who invested in a service station franchise, auto mechanics and electricians, spare parts retailers and manufacturers and their employees, the drivers and families of fuel tanker drivers who bring the fuel to the service station.

    Some of those everyday people and business owners will suffer large financial losses, in addition to disruptive social effects on others in their circle of family and friends.

    All those people in their own turn also affect other sectors of the economy as they go about their daily lives as ‘consumers’ of retail goods.

    Those who hopefully dream of some kind of ‘electric vehicle’ utopia descending virtually over-night upon magically pristine shores of a soon-to-be natural paradise are likely to be deeply disappointed. The ‘disruptive’ effects of replacing internal combustion vehicles of all kinds with EV will be very large even if managed properly.

    I can’t see how government is going to be financially capable of playing ANY significant role in helping such a transition occur, simply because they could well run out of money beforehand for a variety of reasons (including that of a mega Global Financial Crisis indirectly caused by extreme natural events in other countries).

    As well, whether they will even go along with it in the first place anyway seems dubious to me. Can anyone realistically see the Liberal’s and State Governments willingly give up both fuel excise and the export earnings from coal, LNG etc in the near future in order to assist a transition to EV’s?

    Who knows, but I would expect that lines of argument such as ‘ We are already well ahead of meeting our 2050 emission reduction targets and as well here’s a graph to prove it’ will be used to dismiss any accusations of failing to do anything meaningful about transitioning to EV

  8. Get Australians to give up their personal car? Good luck with that. Even if it makes sense economically and environmental I can’t see it happening in the next two decades at least. As an example of how predicting the future is not as easy as giving mobile phones, computers etc as examples, I have in my library somewhere a book published about mid to late 50’s (Ok, so I’m old!) which states that commercial nuclear fusion is no more than 15 years away. Interestingly, this is about the same time frame that fusion enthusiasts have been regularly stating for the last 60 years. Hopefully I will be wrong on both counts.

  9. Ian Thompson says

    “Since autonomous cars can trundle around 24 hours a day if needed”

    Bit ambitious/misleading? Unless technology makes another giant step, I think you’d need to allow time for battery charging?

    Des Scahill does some “big picture” navel gazing regarding loss of jobs, loss of excise income, etc. Good points – and we must remain aware that to pay Paul, we maybe have to charge Peter – if no excise on fuel can be raised, it is still necessary to raise funds somehow to provide for all the massive infrastructure builds – maybe we’ll have to accept increase direct taxation?

    • Daniel Debreceny says

      That’s absolute nit-picking.

      A Tesla, with 80% battery charging in 30minutes (320km) can trundle around at 70km/h for 4.5714hrs, with a 0.5hr (80%) recharge – resulting in 320km per 5.0715 hours.

      That’s an impressive 1,514 km per day … at 47c/kwh (supercharger), and that’s only $100 (99.62) per day in running costs.

      Understand that there’s probably another $50 for the 5x manned plugging/unplugging of the car charger … that’s still only $150/day.

      If you assume a 33% utilisation (500 km) … and $50 client cost for a 50km trip …. that’s 10 trips, $500 / day, less $115 … $385 profit per day.

      A tesla M3-SR+ with Autonomous driving costs <$100,000 on road – $259.7 days. Less than a year payback … and they last 8-10years.

      Sure, you will argue that there are additional costs .. but uber already has fully digital platform.

      Sure you can argue that everyone expects lower cost … half the fare. Payback is less than 2 years, and you've put the entire taxi /manned driving businesses out of business, and you've also massively increased the utilisation from 33% to 50-66%.

      In regards to the fuel excise … how much of this goes towards medical bills for respiratory issues???

  10. Bugger this automatic vehicle for a crummy utopian ideal. More cars and less people using mass transit or active transport modes. We should be reducing the hideous amount of public space devoted to roads and returning it to make better quality of life.

    The car centric view of the world needs to be flipped on its head.

    This is what would be far better:
    Utrecht

  11. Hi,

    Electric vehicles, terrific in cities, OK for inter-city, as long as they can be re-charged quickly, but not much use if you have a caravan. A lot of us do, and we like to travel. Lots.

    dRdoS7

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Unless you have the money to shell out on a Tesla X you’re probably out of luck at the moment, but there’s no technical reason why electric vehicles can’t be suitable for towing caravans. Provided the price of batteries is low enough to out compete diesel and petrol that’s what people will use.

  12. Batteries doesn’t last forever and is there infinite supply of lithium if the whole world goes EV? Will prices soar like oil due to demand or scarcity?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      There is a lot of lithium so we’re not likely to run short. Especially if self driving cars greatly reduce the total number of vehicles produced annually. Lithium is also a small portion of the cost of a battery pack so if it increases in price it will result in a proportionately much smaller increase in battery prices.

      But let’s say lithium does increase massively in price. If you already have an electric car then the current battery is likely to last for over 10 years, so it shouldn’t affect you for a long time.

      • Mike Barraclough says

        Yeah but, let’s instead focus on H as the fuel of the future. I know this is an electric focused site, so please forgive my digression.
        Japan, for one is totally committed to H as the fuel for electricity generation.
        I don’t think ev vehicles are more than a stop gap solution till H is more available.
        Perhaps in the taxi and ride share sector in the cities ev’s are suitable. But
        Ev is certainly not the most convenient for long distance, farming, and heavy haulage . I predict that farmers in arid and marginal areas will cooperate locally to generate large amounts of PV for production of H. They will use the racks of panels to shelter the soil from increasing temperatures and provide sun shelter for stock.
        Instead of large refineries we may see smaller, regional H production plants that will swop PV generated power for compressed H for farmers to run their plant and equipment. But without Govt support to keep farmers on the land till this happens, food prices will keep rapidly increasing as production falls and overseas demand increases.

        • Ronald Brakels says

          Hydrogen transport is more than welcome to compete with electric transport, but one of my problems with hydrogen in Australia is people making plans based on the assumption that Japanese politicians are telling the truth. It’s really bizarre. Believing Japan on this is at exactly the same level as believing the Australian government when they say they will build new coal power stations or that the Republican government in the US will rescue their coal industry.

          Admittedly it is more believable than Mexico paying for Trump’s wall.

          Maybe in a few years I’ll test drive a hydrogen car and it will really wow me, but I don’t see how we get to the point where hydrogen vehicles outcompete electrics. More precisely, I don’t see how people can make money from getting us to that point, and without the Benjamins, or MelbaMonashas as we call them in Australia, it won’t happen.

  13. Richard Chirgwin,
    You ask:
    “What do the thinkers among Solar Quotes’ readers think – are there alligators lurking below the surface of Seba’s vision?”

    I think there are quite a few big ifs there that Seba is apparently relying upon to happen.

    IMO, the biggest IF is achieving a PROVEN reliable, affordable Level 4 autonomy, rapidly deployable technology.

    You state:
    “…it’s only Level 4 autonomy that’s missing. Once that arrives, Seba predicts a collapse in emissions…”

    I wonder just how much of that statement is based on reality or is it just hype and wishful thinking? There are questions about how close the technology is now and what still needs to be done to achieve a proven high level of reliability, etc., before a large-scale roll-out of the technology can begin. Or are you (or Seba) suggesting the community at large should become guinea pigs with risks for potentially lethal consequences as the bugs in the technology are revealed through trial and error and rectified while operating among us at scale? I would suggest the legal implications are a vast minefield to traverse.

    Assuming the Level 4 autonomy technology bugs can be eliminated, and the legal minefield can be cleared, (and IMO these are very big ifs) then the question is: How quickly can the technology be physically deployed?

    IMO, more than likely, the technology would be integrated into new (low-carbon emissions) vehicles – large-scale retrofits of existing (predominately ICE) vehicles IMO are likely to be problematic. Per ABS statistics, Australia had at 30 June 2018 an estimated 19 million motor vehicles (See: https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/mf/9208.0 ). The benefit for autonomous vehicles touted is that we wouldn’t need as many vehicles as we do have now, but I would suggest it would still likely be in the several millions (perhaps more), just for Australia (let alone the world). Sales of new vehicles in Australia are running at just under one million units per year, so I would suggest new autonomous vehicles would not be deployed any faster than that rate, but more likely at a much lower rate. Therefore, I would suggest the large-scale deployment of this technology (remember, these are tonne-plus vehicles we are talking about, not a few hundred-gram mobile phones) would still likely take decades (assuming conditions are favourable).

    Meanwhile, escalating evidence I see suggests that a post- ‘peak oil’ supply (repeat SUPPLY, NOT DEMAND) world is likely to arrive in the 2020s.
    See: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/australia-fuel-economy-worse/#comment-516813
    Also: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/australia-fuel-economy-worse/#comment-533403

    There’s other information you may find interesting and relevant in my Submission (#215) to the NSW Parliament Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on Environment and Planning inquiry into “Sustainability of energy and resources in NSW” outlining key challenges at:
    https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2542#tab-submissions

    The really interesting question I think is whether the technology that Seba is promoting can be deployed at large-scale (and at a level proven to be highly reliable) and in sufficient numbers to start making a significant reduction in global demand for petroleum-based fuels BEFORE an inevitable post- ‘peak oil’ supply world arrives, otherwise human civilization will fall off the ‘energy cliff’. In other words, I would suggest many objectives must be realized and must happen very quickly, otherwise I suspect a very different, petroleum-energy-starved world will likely emerge.

    A quick note on ‘peak oil’: “Peak oil’ is not the end of petroleum oil – it’s the beginning of the end of petroleum oil – it’s the beginning of petroleum fuel supply scarcity, and unless humanity can find viable alternatives that are affordable (with good ERoI) and can be deployed at large-scale quickly, then our world will become energy-starved. See a YouTube video of a keynote presentation by Dr Robert Hirsch titled “The Nexus of Energy and the Risk in the 21st Century”, delivered on 7 Nov 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_paA-lm1zw

    It seems to me that Seba is just looking at a SEGMENT of land transportation. There are other sectors IMO that have much bigger challenges. For example, what about the long-distance aviation and marine sectors? What technologies do you see that are currently affordable, with adequate ERoI, and rapidly deployable at large-scale that can replace/displace petroleum dependency (and achieve net-zero carbon emissions) at a similar rate of change (that Seba suggests may happen with land transport)? I just don’t see any, but perhaps I’m just not aware of them.

    Petroleum-based fuels are relatively energy-dense, with still generally higher (but steadily declining) ERoI, and all the sunk capital costs in a vast global infrastructure system, that it is a huge (dare I say unprecedented) challenge to replace it all, affordably and quickly, within the next three decades, for long-distance aviation and marine vessels.

    So, I think your statement:
    “…Seba predicts a collapse in emissions, oil prices falling so far expensive extractions (oil sands, shale, and deepwater extraction) will end, and a construction boom that will completely reshape our cities.”

    …suggests to me a lack of understanding of the scale and enormous complexities of the challenges facing humanity – IMO it’s just not that simple! But perhaps you see compelling evidence (NOT just wishful thinking) I don’t see, so perhaps you could enlighten us?

  14. Let’s say EVs take an increasing chunk of the vehicle market (quite likely) and demand for petrol and diesel falls (also quite likely).

    What happens to the price of a commodity when demand drops?

    We’ll have lots of cheap second hand ICE vehicles and cheaper fuel probably.

  15. David Colley says

    Well, isn’t is fascinating that the presidents of Ford and now Daimler don’t think we’ll be getting autonomous cars any time soon. It has proven too difficult to programme the computers to cope with all situations that cars face when moving along roads. Check out the following …

    Daimler is planning to “rightsize” its spending on self-driving taxis, Chairman Ola Källenius said on Thursday. Getting self-driving cars to operate safely in complex urban environments has proved more challenging than people expected a few years ago, he admitted.

    “There has been a reality check setting in here,” Källenius said, according to Reuters.

    He is just the latest executive to acknowledge that work on self-driving taxi technology is not progressing as fast as optimists expected two or three years ago. Earlier this year, Ford CEO Jim Hackett sought to dampen expectations for Ford’s own self-driving vehicles. Industry leaders Waymo and GM’s Cruise missed self-imposed deadlines to launch driverless commercial taxi services in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

    • Tony Jacques says

      That book publication date would be about the time Big Blue Head Honcho predicted that the world demand for IBM “BIG” computers would be in the region of 3-4.

  16. keith colbert says

    There may be a space for autonomous vehicles. The promised benefits are largely a mirage.
    1 Cars are not only used for commuting. Recreational use absorbs most of personal mileage. Going to Maccas or going to the opera is a very personal choice.
    2. Who is going to clean the summonable subscribed autonomous vehicle. Every use has to be prepared/checked for Vomit, needles, lost property and damage. Presently the driver does that. Without a driver someone else has to. Which means that every vehicle must return to the dispatch centre for preparation. Who is likely to take a chance that the vehicle will be safe and clean.

  17. Dave Springer says

    The Saudi’s are floating their biggest oil company , their golden goose !
    Possibly they read Tony Seba and so going public is extracting all those billions or trillions of dollars , forward of normal oil sales at this current price / value .
    Possibly they see a large downward correction coming their way ?
    Just wondering .

    Super / ultra / supadooper capacitators will negate electric car range issues when they are further sorted , as will happen – soon .

    Its an amazing time .

  18. One problem is that politicians will ensure that autonomous vehicles will need to fit existing landscapes, road system, city designs etc. They’ll do this because their DNA requires them to be ultra-cautious (or totally denialist). In an ideal world re-structuring the city environment would go hand in glove with the introduction of the autonomous EV.

    • I dunno if you could ‘blame’ politicians for being cautious. What you’ve described is just one illustration of how massive the task of ‘transition’ actually is.

      No matter who is in political office, they are ‘stuck’ with what’s already there, along with ALL the existing consequences of past bad decisions and inaction by their predecessors. .

      A big issue is that of ‘priorities’. EV’s might be the ‘flavour of the month’ at present, but in terms of allocating available resources, perhaps ensuring basic food and water supply should be given precedence over EV infra-structure in some instances.

      Besides, a $4000 electric bicycle seems a smarter investment to me in the short-term than $150 K EV that can tow a caravan on some ’round Australia’ grey nomad trip. Caravans are pretty hard to tow along roads that haven’t been maintained since the last fire ignited the bitumen, or across bridges washed out by floods etc simply because the various authorities haven’t got any money left to do so.

  19. Finn
    I am excited by the introduction of autonomous electric vehicles.
    I think their introduction and widespread acceptance will be delayed by widespread use of BEV.
    Maybe this will be a way of redistributing wealth.
    Those who have plenty of money and insist on using ICE vehicles will gradually become relatively less well off.
    Then those who still insist on owning their vehicle will go the way of the ICE brigade.

  20. If we say the first 20 years of transition has just started the I think 20 years is a reasonable guess to approach the scenario proposed. The real driver will be the reduction in number of ICE vehicles being built. This should significantly increase the cost of these vehicles.
    Many of the objections are based on things staying the same. There is a new battery that has been tested by one of the respected european standards companies that can be recharged to 80% in something like 4 mins 40 seconds. If that’s not good enough then battery packs can be switched out much more easily than for a non autonomous vehicle.
    Powering the grid with enough green energy will be a problem because the world production of PV panels will have trouble keeping up with demand. Giga factories are a big capital investment. PV factories and battery factories are being designed so that as far as one can foresee they will be capable of changing to accommodate different chemistries and technologies to reduce the risk of big expensive stranded assetts (like coal mines are in danger of becoming), There will probably always be a market for person driven vehicles for those who love driving. Just like those people now own Ferraris for the pleasure of driving. How many of those people find pleasure in driving on a six lane car park? They will taxi to work cheaper than public transport and reading a book then enjoy their weekends in the Ferrari.

  21. … there are over 200 low mileage Nissan Leafs under £13,000 on Autotrader, quite a lot for a low volume seller. Apparently the range is nothing like it says on the tin and recharging can be unbelievably slow, so disgruntled owners are selling them.
    So these cars have already roughly halved in value. In another 5 years they will more than halve in value again to say £5,000. At that point they will need a new battery at (£5,000 odd) and that raises the question. Is it worth spending £5,000 on a 10 year old car which will still continue to depreciate? You’d never get your money back so you would be better off starting again, and probably not with an electric car ever again – once bitten.
    The bottom line is that a used Leaf might already be a write off in 5 years time. Does any of this make sense and which part of the story is green?

  22. Mr. L.E.Sketcher says

    I have ridden a Tesla XS at highway speeds in the ‘ no hands’ mode.
    I have watched a Model 3 overtake a Masa on highway max in Ludicrous mode.
    The experience is Disney like but it is the here and now.
    In Aus. the stoppers are price and availability in 2019.
    2020 will bring more competition but Aus is such a small market that the govt of the day needs to get involved to open up that market even encourage australian manufacture again?!

  23. Ian Thompson says

    Yes Markp1950, but most owners cars also sit doing nothing for 95% of the SAME time as well.
    So that is one heap of cars that could be doing the small amount of other work the rest of the time.
    But the crunch is – when you want the car, so does almost everyone else.
    Haven’t you ever noticed peak hour traffic, when you were going to work? Then, everyone would want a taxi, so there would then need to be one heap of Autonomous EV taxis available – that 95% of the rest of the time would be grossly oversupplied.
    I would add to Ronald’s comment about autonomy eliminating the major cost component of having a driver – and point out this autonomy would become available to ICE-vehicles as well (not just EV).

  24. Peter Huron says

    Not necessarily. No one will abandon trains and buses; they would be just autonomous. We already have self-driving trains transporting people from terminal to terminal at major airports like Atlanta. Buses would not disappear instead would be EV and driver-less as well.

    Taxis could offer ride sharing at a subsidized cost to single occupancy cabs.. Accidents would be a lot less and traffic therefore flows more smoothly (without road blocks and rubber necking delays). With autonomous vehicles that monitor vehicles around them there is a possibility to increase the cruising highways substantially,so we reach our destination faster.

  25. Ian Thompson says

    Hi Peter

    I’ve recently travelled on a driverless metro train in the Paris underground.
    The train must have been fitted with a learning control braking system, because it would brake evenly and firmly into stations, and come to a stop very precisely (had to – the platforms had automatic doors, for obvious reasons).
    The particular track I was on, had trains arriving and departing every 2 minutes – and they travel much, much faster than terminal-to-terminal trains at airports – they are fast.

    The techology is already here, and in routine use.

    In Paris there are cars, but the train network is heavily patronised, and people also use electric scooters.

    So I think I agree with your comments.

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