Wheels (Australia) - - Fortune Special -

Around 80 per­cent of all trips made in the USA are one or two per­son jour­neys yet ve­hi­cles are de­signed for once-a-year oc­ca­sions – look at seven-seater SUVS. Au­ton­o­mous elec­tric cars have fewer mov­ing parts and of­fer great cost ef­fi­cien­cies in pro­duc­tion – with as lit­tle as 1/10th the com­po­nen­try of a con­ven­tional car – and much lower op­er­at­ing costs per kilo­me­tre. It in­tro­duces an al­ter­na­tive to oil with­out the need for the cur­rent tally of 170,000 gas sta­tions in the USA, as the ride-shar­ing busi­ness model has au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles re­turn­ing to cen­tral de­pots for charg­ing. There are three park­ing spa­ces for ev­ery one of the 250 mil­lion ve­hi­cles in the US. The im­pact au­ton­o­mous cars will have on the use of real es­tate will free up valu­able land. A typ­i­cal Wal Mart has two to three times the car park foot­print of its main build­ing. Elec­tric drive is vastly more ef­fi­cient and kinder to the cli­mate, de­pend­ing on how and where the en­ergy is gen­er­ated.

They don’t all have to be two seaters. Any con­fig­u­ra­tion is pos­si­ble and it won’t be com­pul­sory, bar­ring govern­ment in­ter­ven­tion. Amer­i­cans drive three tril­lion miles ev­ery year and use 180 bil­lion gal­lons of fuel. Physics says only 1-2% of the en­ergy in a gal­lon of gas moves the driver – the rest is lost as heat, fric­tion and in mov­ing the 1.5 to 2.5 tonnes of ma­chin­ery. The prized busi­ness model – a driver­less Uber or Lyft – can co-ex­ist with pri­vately owned or leased au­ton­o­mous cars and old­style hu­man driv­ers. A driver­less Uber or Lyft that can get to you in a few min­utes for 20 US cents a mile makes pri­vate own­er­ship at around US$1.50 a mile ex­pen­sive, par­tic­u­larly in big cities. The claimed re­duc­tion in road deaths is be­tween 80 and 90 per­cent of the 1.3 mil­lion peo­ple a year who die in ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents world­wide due to hu­man er­ror or inat­ten­tion. The stats say pri­vately owned cars are sta­tion­ary 90-95 per­cent of the time, chew­ing away at your wal­let in de­pre­ci­a­tion, in­sur­ance, main­te­nance, and of course the ini­tial pur­chase price. A sig­nif­i­cant chunk of the pop­u­la­tion who can’t or won’t drive will have in­stant mo­bil­ity – the aged, the vi­sion im­paired, kids, the hand­i­capped. Time spent trav­el­ling in au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles will be time well spent – on pro­duc­tive things like work, leisure or even shut-eye. Stress lev­els go down. Road rage be­comes ex­tinct.

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