Cars: Electric Soon, Self-driving Later – 1/16/17

The auto industry is facing not one but two revolutionary changes in the near future: electric vehicles and self-driving cars.

As cheaper batteries, lighter materials, and more powerful electric motors continue to improve the range and lower the price of electric vehicles, analysts are at the point of predicting an impending wave of electrification in the automotive industry.

Right now, makers of electric vehicles might be taking a risk accommodating the still costly technology, but in 10 years price and regulations could make electric the only viable option in the market.

But while electric vehicles are largely the same as vehicles on the road today, autonomous cars are only being tested in populated areas in recent years and face heavy scrutiny from regulators and the general public.

Still, the massive investments traditional car companies and the nontraditional businesses are making in the technology suggest that seeing self-driving cars in daily life is inevitable. Uber has been testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh; Waymo, the self-driving car unit spin off from Google, is teaming up with Chrysler; Ford is extending Chariot, the van-sharing service; and the examples go on and on.

The benefits of the technology are simply too great for businesses to ignore, especially for companies interested in providing ride hailing services. For Uber and Lyft, replacing drivers with computers would reduce the cost of taxi services immensely and create a cheap car service that could be available at all hours. No more worrying about background checks, unions, or all the other expenses that come with hiring people.

And as Uber, Lyft and their competitors push for fully autonomous ride-hailing services that cut out the cost of human drivers, they are set to speed the adoption of electric cars as well. Electric cars beat out conventional ones for a number of reasons including fuel-cost savings, easier and safer automated refueling, and better compatibility with computer systems.

Autonomous technology will be restricted to urban areas for at least the next few years and could take decades to reach the country where mapping roads is more difficult. Still, whenever cars that drive themselves take off, car makers have made it clear they want a part of the business.

Between electrification and autonomous capabilities, the future of the personal vehicle is at a turning point. What that means for drivers, car companies, and society in general will be interesting to see.

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