Get ready to say goodbye to a lot of electric cars – Business Insider

Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2016


Uber driverless car
Doesn’t need to be plugged
in.

Uber

We are nearing the beginning of what I’m calling the “second
great electric-car extinction.” The first extinction happened
after the financial crisis, when numerous electric-vehicle
startups went bankrupt and vanished.

Since then, the EV market has been dominated by the single
significant survivor, Tesla, and by the experiments of the major
automakers. The best-known example of the latter is probably the
Nissan Leaf.

But various other all-electric cars and plug-in hybrids dot the
automotive landscape. And they aren’t long for this world.

That’s because the narrative in the future of mobility is
shifting. Since the mid-2000s, it’s been all about alternatives
to gas-powered propulsion, chiefly EVs. The remaining, ambitious
players for this story are of course Tesla, which is bringing out
a mass-market vehicle, the Model 3, in 2017; and General Motors,
which wants to rival the Model 3’s 200-miles of range with its
own all-electric Bolt, slated to hit the road in late 2016.

Tesla sales have been growing year after year, but overall EV
sales are declining. It’s possible that GM’s Bolt will validate
the long-range concept, something that Tesla has kind of already
done, albeit at a much higher price point.


2015 Chevrolet BoltEV
The
Chevy Bolt EV.


General
Motors



A sexier idea 

But the real issue is that the sexier idea right now in the
car-tech realm is self-driving. Uber is rolling out a small fleet
of autonomous Volvo SUVs in Pittsburgh, Ford has committed to a
fully autonomous test fleet by 2021, GM is talking about using
its $500-million investment in Lyft and its acquisition of
self-driving startup Cruise Automation to set up a self-driving
fleet in big cities, and Google’s work on its driverless Google
Car continues apace. For its part, Tesla has stressed that the
Model 3 launch and the continued development of its Autopilot
technology are the company’s highest priorities.


Tesla Model S Autopilot
Autopilot in a
Tesla.

Benjamin Zhang/Business
Insider


To get to full autonomy, you don’t really need to go electric.
Plain old gas-powered platforms are fine. They’re available in
massive numbers, are large enough in the case of SUVs to lug
around all the processing power, sensors, and radars you need to
advanced autonomy, and can be refueled in a snap. No waiting
around for an hour or two, which you’re up against even with fast
electric recharging.

The self-driving all-electric car is an elegant solution to
several problems, from global warming to highway fatalities to
time lost in traffic. But it’s also two new technologies being
engineered at the same time. Focus on one or the other and
you probably stand a better chance of winning.

Faster, faster


Ford Fusion
A
Ford fully autonomous Fusion Hybrid research
vehicle.

Ford

The pace of driverless advancements also seems to be accelerating
faster than what’s happening with battery chemistry, meaning that
widespread electric mobility for the masses might not happen
before cars can drive themselves. 

It’s obviously unclear whether consumers will
actually want cars that drive themselves, outside
of ride-hailing fleets and taxi services. The tech is currently
expensive, and even if the cost comes down, it will still be an
add-on that has to be absorbed by someone, eventually. It remains
to be seen whether car buyers will want to cough up a few
thousand more on the purchase just to get a hyperactive version
of cruise control.

But it is clear that the advanced-mobility storyline has changed,
probably sooner than anyone expected. And it isn’t about what
makes the cars go — it’s about who controls them once they get
going.

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