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The blunders of autonomous driving are good news for the climate • londonbusinessblog.com

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Not even a decade ago, two technologies raced to an unprecedented finish line. They did not compete with each other – the adoption of one did not exclude the other. But to avoid catastrophic climate consequences, the order of arrival mattered.

Autonomous vehicles had to lose and electric vehicles had to win.

It was not clear at the time who would take the checkered flag. In some ways, autonomous vehicles seem to have momentum on their side, making significant strides since the first tentatively completed the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2007. Ten years later, seemingly everyone had a self-propelled division.

Meanwhile, electric vehicles got off to a slow start. Early models could travel less than 100 miles per charge on batteries that cost about a third of the cost of the entire car. Tesla broke with the Model S in 2012, but the price was out of most of the US car market. In 2017, the picture had not changed much.

What a difference five years makes.

Autonomous vehicles have largely come to a standstill, while EVs have boomed. Self-driving vehicles may have overcome many everyday driving scenarios, but they are still often hampered by other situations human drivers navigate on a daily basis – pedestrians, inclement weather, roadworks.

Yes, Waymo and Cruise operate taxi services that are open to the public, but they’re only available in parts of Tempe and San Francisco, respectively, cities they’ve been mapping and testing for years. As anyone who has driven in another city knows, each metro area has its own quirks. Making the leap to a new city won’t be easy. Even former boosters like Lyft co-founder and president John Zimmer, who said just six years ago that most rides on the network would be autonomous today, now expect only 1% to 10% of future rides to meet that bill.

EVs, on the other hand, are on the rise. The price of batteries has fallen from over $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in early 2010 to just over $100. Investors are pouring money into battery startups and battery manufacturers are scrambling to build a global network of factories.

While affordable EVs remain rare, prices have fallen since the introduction of the Model S and the number of models has expanded dramatically. Sales in Europe, China and the US are up, and the future looks even brighter in the wake of legislative and regulatory action that cements batteries as the main energy source for cars and light trucks.

Those two trends are not a moment too late to diverge.

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