Last year we started to take a look at an emerging technology that some claim will revolutionise urban transport – driverless cars. My view is that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be – if we wanted to, we could easily get the purported benefits by investing in existing, proven technology:

While driverless cars (or hoverboards for that matter) sound exciting, we can’t afford to pin all of our hopes on them. The pragmatic, proven way forward for transport in a big city is the same as it’s always been: Give people good transport choices by investing in efficient rapid transit networks, frequent bus services, and safe walking and cycling options.

If we want a safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly transport system, we can achieve it now by making smart policy changes. We don’t have to wait.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that we did want to wait for driverless cars to solve our self-imposed problems. How long would it take, exactly?

The wait would be a function of three factors:

  • First, how long it takes until driverless cars are proven and widely available for purchase in New Zealand. Most people agree that the technology is improving and may be ready for wide deployment sometime in the next decade. (Obviously, regulatory barriers could slow uptake as well.)
  • Second, how long it will take the New Zealand vehicle fleet to turn over – i.e. how long until the cars that’s currently on the road is scrapped and replaced. At the moment, the average NZ vehicle is around 13 years old, meaning that we’d expect it to take at least 13 years for half of the fleet to be renewed. Full replacement of every car on the road could take 25-40 years – a quick glimpse at Trademe shows that people are still buying and selling cars built in the early 1980s.
  • Third, and possibly most importantly, how rapidly driverless cars gain market share. Even after the introduction of driverless cars, most people will continue buying self-drive cars, which will dramatically slow the transition to a driverless fleet.

People have spent a lot of time thinking about the first two points, but I haven’t seen any commentary on the third one. Fortunately, we can draw upon some real-world data to get a sense of how rapidly consumers take up new vehicle technologies. Over the last decade, hybrid and electric cars have become commonly available, with cumulative global sales figures in the millions. While they tend to be more expensive to purchase, they offer savings on fuel costs and improvements in environmental performance.

So: How have consumers responded to recent technological transformations?

In short, they have hardly noticed. People are not rushing to give up their petrol (and self-driving) vehicles, even though there are now viable alternatives. A recent study from the US has found that hybrid vehicles’ market share has stayed low, even though car-makers have introduced many more new models. Over a decade after the Toyota Prius first arrived on the market, hybrids account for only one in every thirty new car sales in the US:

Source: IHS/Polk

Obviously, uptake of hybrid and electric vehicles has been faster in some places than others. However, a 2013 New York Times article on new vehicle technologies found that alternative vehicles have failed to capture a majority of the market even in the most favourable environments:

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — It would seem to be a good time to own an electric car in Santa Monica. From the charging stations dotted around town to the dedicated public parking spaces — all provided at no cost by the city — Santa Monica has rolled out the welcome mat for electric cars.

But even here, in this wealthy, environmentally conscious city of 90,000 west of Los Angeles, only a core group of owners has switched from traditional gasoline-powered cars.

Less than 4 percent of registered cars run only on battery power, according to an analysis by the industry researcher of data from R.L. Polk, which records vehicle registrations nationwide. Hybrids, which run on some combination of gasoline and battery power, account for 15.5 percent, the data says, but many of those are traditional hybrids, which do not require a plug-in cord for recharging.

In other words, after a decade, over 80% of Santa Monica’s car fleet is still composed of conventional petrol cars. And that’s about as good as it gets anywhere in the US, which is on the leading edge of many new trends in vehicle technologies.

The picture isn’t much different outside of the US. Research on vehicle fleets in 19 countries shows that there are only two countries where hybrids and electric vehicles account for more than 1% of vehicle fleets. Norway (largely electric cars) and the Netherlands (mostly hybrids) were far and away the leaders in uptake, due to extraordinarily generous subsidies for buyers. Everywhere else lagged far behind:

Electrified vehicle market share 19 countries
Source: ABB Conversations

In short, people don’t seem to be rushing out to buy new vehicle technologies. Although we all have the option to buy electric now, few people do in practice. It is very likely that driverless cars, when or if they become readily available, will follow a similar pattern. Initially, at least, they will be costlier and seem riskier than self-drive cars. Current rates of uptake for hybrid and electric cars suggest that it could take half a century or more for petrol cars to vanish from the road. Why should the transition to driverless cars be any faster?

All in all, recent market realities should encourage caution about driverless cars. Slow rates of uptake for new vehicle technologies mean that they aren’t going to solve our problems any time soon. A 2014 London School of Economics report on the state of urban mobility (pdf) described the dilemma of vehicle technology innovation well. They noted:

Regarding the development of new transport technologies, key actors (above all the automotive sector) have failed to convert technological progress into substantive improvements in energy efficiency and vehicle emissions or more broadly transform modes of accessibility in cities.

The clear implication is that if we want better transport outcomes, we must implement better transport policies. The data shows that waiting on new technologies is not a sensible option. If we want to lower the road toll, we must invest in safe roads, including protected cycle infrastructure. If we want a workable solution to congestion, we must build rapid transit infrastructure, bus lanes and walking and cycling improvements to give people the choice to avoid it.

There is no realistic alternative – so why don’t we get on with it?

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  1. I agree, they aren’t silver bullets that we should wait around for. I would like an electric as my next vehicle, but why rush out and buy an electric car? Its the same as your ICE vehicle, but costs more and with lower range. It is still a product that cannot compete on price or convenience. The cost savings on fuel are long term and still not significant. Until there is a breakthrough in battery technology to increase range significantly and reduce costs, then I don’t see market share changing rapidly.

    Driverless cars are a totally different product once they are perfected. I see them quickly replacing buses, trucks and taxis. However I don’t see them reducing congestion any time soon. You would still probably have the same number of vehicles doing more trips but still clogging up the roads.

    1. automatic car pooling could help with congestion. One driverless taxi could carry 4 or more people into the city who probably drive individual cars at present.

      1. and multiply that most wasteful use of expensive CBD real estate – car parking

        I once calculated that if all people using PT into the CBD switched to driving at 1.2 persons per car, a carp park the size of Albert Park would be needed, 7-8 stories high. it’ll never happen jimbo me lad

        and before you say, but, but, four people to a car, this calculation was done more than 10 years ago and patronage has grown significantly since then, so I’d say in the unlikely event that you could get your occupancy up, it probably still holds true

        1. Agreed. Speeding up highway congestion with carpooling is like asking people to share their smart phones to speed up the internet. To speed up traffic, the best strategy is to build single-width cars with all passenger seats behind the driver. That way the tandem seated cars could get the same throughput benefits that bikes and motorcycles get. If the ultra-narrow have one or two seats, then the parking benefits of bikes and motorcycles occur, too. Of course, ultra-narrow cars can have self-driving tech, too, so that’s another congestion mitigation advantage.

  2. From what I can see in central Auckland people chose to buy bicycles… I’ve never seen so much congestion. And there’s no subsidy to buy them

  3. I had my name down for a Tesla when Elon Musk started the company – but when they wrote to me and said your car is available now, I had to decline: the price was eye-wateringly high. Should have bought shares in the company instead – share prices have skyrocketed.

    But I wonder, with the current weird plunge in petrol prices, if people are starting to think about converting their electric cars back to petrol…?

  4. I agree that widespread implementation of driverless cars is a long way off, but I completely disagee that once they’re widely available people will continue buying self-drive cars. People won’t buy cars at all for personal transportation purposes. They will just call a car Uber-style that will arrive without a driver and take them wherever. These cars will work constantly and they will need to be many fewer of them on the road than under the existing model where most people leave their car parked 95+ percent of the day. Driverless cars are like car-share where you don’t have to drive or park them. It seems to me that companies will own fleets of them and ordinary people will just buy subscriptions to have a car at their door within 2 minutes anytime they want to go somewhere. Anywho, a somewhat moot point for now as this disruption is decades off for the other reasons you rightly state.

    1. I agree with this. A great deal of evidence supports the view that what these new technologies are most likely to disrupt the whole culture of private car ownership and its concomitant industries; car insurance, garage builders, small mechanics, vast car yards, gas stations, etc especially in cities. They’ll go like Kodak; they’ll be replaced by fewer much smaller iterations.

      Cities certainly will still have small road vehicles [and of course big ones too], but we all won’t have one or two each, we will use them but not own them, and the ratio of cars to people will reverse back down the other side of a bell curve just as they ramped up in the 20thC…

    2. Agreed that private car ownership will almost disappear when driverless cars exist, why would anyone want to own a car if it’s cheaper to have a driverless taxi take you everywhere and you don’t need a garage or even a driveway. Driverless taxis will probably make sense well before driverless cars are cheap to buy – even if one costs say $100k it could still make a good return for the owner (especially if it was electric so there were no petrol costs). I think driverless taxis could be about 10 years away and they could take off pretty quickly. But I wouldn’t be making transport decisions based on this possibility.

      1. Yes the taxi driver is clearly an endangered species. Furthermore these technologies will, as they already are, be accompanied by the effective ‘de-carring’ of city centres. As is happening now in Paris, London, New York, Helsinki and more. And is clearly underway in Auckland in a small way. The privately owned vehicle will be gone as streets are given over to people walking and on bikes, Transit, delivery and service + emergency vehicles, and self-drive shared cars then autonomous drive ones. In that order.

    3. I think your comparison isn’t that fair. Really electric cars only do two things – reduce carbon emissions (in the few countries that have green electricity supplies) and save the owner money on petrol. So they only really make sense for greenies or if the savings in operational costs outweigh the purchase price (which it normally doesn’t).
      Self driving cars however offer something quite tangible. I know I would pay quite a premium for a car where I didn’t have to drive.

    4. I’m not sure your suggestions are that realistic. To have a car almost 2 minutes from your door would mean any provider would have to have massive fleets of them all sitting around waiting for you to call and book one. That means you’d even need local depots in each suburb storing heaps of them or having them cruising around just waiting to be used. In the former situation that’s a lot of land that’s needed while in the latter that’s a lot of extra driving that’s needed and in many places it would likely make being a pedestrian even harder as to get across the road you’d have to dodge constant streams of cars searching for a fare.

      Going further, in the future we’re still bound to have peak times which means that fleets need to be huge to cater for that or you lose the quick response. If you’re having to wait 10 minutes for a car then it starts defeating the purpose and for many a frequent PT network would end up being better.

      1. Well said Matt. In Singapore taxis are very cheap and people still pay huge money to own a car. Part of the reason is that you cannot get a taxi when you want it, particularly if it starts raining. Even in NZ taxi drivers do not earn big $$ so why would a driverless taxi be much cheaper?

  5. Good reads are also Gartner’s Technology Hype Cycle and Roger’s Technology Diffusion theory. I guess most of the talk and uptake of the technology is atm hype based and won’t sustain, until the bubble will implode and then we get the sustainable versions.

  6. What is the ‘business case’ for a family to get an autonomous car. My wife and I can drive so we would not pay a premium for that feature.

    Would I do other stuff instead of being the driver? Unlikely unless stuck in traffic.
    Would I use it for the ‘kids taxi? Mybe when they are old enough to not need supervision.

    Where I see it being of benefit is to get rid of the second car. If a taxi/uber/CithHop type service became cheap enough, it could replace the second car. This is where I see the benefit to it. The premium (if any attached to an autonomous car will be compensated by not having to pay for a driver in a taxi. The higher utilisation of a taxi while also make any premium worthwhile.

    Like Hybrids, Taxi/Uber/CityHop type services will be the early adopters.

      1. Exactly – that ‘second car’/taxi scenario is the most likely way forward. Therefore they will never be a huge % of the national fleet but will make up a much large % of Km driven.

    1. That’s like saying why would anyone buy a 50 inch flat screen when they can watch TV perfectly fine on their 14 inch CRT.
      A driverless car can turn your horrible commute time into leisure time.

  7. I think your comparison isn’t that fair. Really electric cars only do two things – reduce carbon emissions (in the few countries that have green electricity supplies) and save the owner money on petrol. So they only really make sense for greenies or if the savings in operational costs outweigh the purchase price (which it normally doesn’t).
    Self driving cars however offer something quite tangible. I know I would pay quite a premium for a car where I didn’t have to drive.

    1. How much would you be willing to pay? What price bracket is your current car in and how much over the exact same car would you pay for just this feature?

      Do currently pay for a driver? Use lots of taxis/uber? Or not because you have already a large sunk cost in your own car.

      1. I’m not a new car buyer, but self driving taxis should be cheaper than the $5k or so I currently spend on depreciation, petrol, insurance, registration, maintenance, interest, etc per car per year.
        there are plenty of people that buy a 100k Audi when a 20k Suzuki swift would suffice, these people will buy an automated car.
        I’m not saying we will get to 100% driverless car uptake any time soon, I agree that a lot of people will still buy standard cars, all I’m saying is that I think the uptake will be quicker than electric cars.

        1. “there are plenty of people that buy a 100k Audi when a 20k Suzuki swift would suffice, these people will buy an automated car.”

          The same argument could be made about hybrid or electric cars – that affluent, price insensitive consumers will be rapid early movers. However, this has not resulted in any significant degree of market penetration.

  8. Hybrids haven’t had wide adoption as they aren’t worth the premium. I have seen two tests by TopGear type shows and ICE beat the hybrid both times:

    – One was a BMW M3 following a Prius around a race track – M3 used less gas
    – A long distance trip from UK to somewhere in Germany I think (cant remember the car) – Prius used more gas due to lots of motorway driving.
    Prius only makes sense if you use it in stop start city driving. That’s why Taxis have been early adopters. That is a large portion of their trips plus they sit in the car even when not in use so the ‘lways on nature’ of a Hybrid makes sense.

    I haven’t done any research on resale but I would be skeptical that you would recover the Hybrid premium on resale due to fears over battery life. Therefore unless fuel prices starts heading up again, it is unlikely you will recover the hybrid premium through fuel savings.Even from an environmental perspective (with NZ 80% green energy), large battery packs aren’t that green.

    For most normal households, if you wanted fuel efficiency, you would opt for a modern European small turbo diesel which probably costs less than the Hybrid premium.

    1. That was in 2008 Harvey. The changes since then are huge. Its like night and day. There were no 240km EV’s available then, nor Plug-ins that get 70kms on battery. Changes to EV in the next 10 years will be huge.

      1. Agree but that what people remember. And the M3 is now even more economic as are the turbo diesels.

        People will be looking towards Tesla and the ‘next generation’, not updates of the last generation.

      2. you have to consider issues beyond purchase cost and fuel (energy) use, the killers with relying on greater technology are things like embedded energy in both building and disposal of vehicles and that high tech batteries use rare elements that are in limited supply

        1. What “rare elements that are in limited supply” precisely? Certainly not Lithium which have huge deposits in South America just waiting to be used.

    2. Harvey,

      How many drags around a race track fuel economy runs have you done on your own car recently, what about long distance trips like UK to Germany?
      Yes of course a large ICE can outperform a lower-powered one on the highway – thats why they have large ICE cars.

      But day to day driving is not the pissing contests like these examples are.

      Most cars never do those sorts of things, they drive to and from work each day in stop start traffic – just like the Taxi or Uber beside them in the traffic does.

      Therefore, thats the area you need to concentrate on as the biggest bang for the buck for NZ Inc and for most individuals.

      As for fuel prices, affecting long term value, like many things (mortgage interest rates included), fuel prices will go up again, by how much and how quickly is a matter for debate.

      But it would be safe to say for NZ, that in 5 years time petrol will in real terms be more expensive than it was at its peak last year. So any decision making on low fuel prices staying is folly.
      Yes they may go way lower than that they are now for the short term, but they will go back up.

      And as our cars will be in the NZ fleet for on average 13 years, that shining new 15 or whatever-MPG Canyonero you buy today, will be a millstone for someones neck for a large chunk of its 13+ year life span as fuel prices escalate. And I guarantee that vehicle will lose more of its resale/premium value over its life time than almost any smaller ICE or Hybrid will.

      All this argument about battery life of Hybrids and Electric cars sounds like a modern gussying up of the same arguments and scaremongering the TV rental companies used around time time when Colour TVs came in – there were people saying that he colour TV tubes wouldn’t last as long as the ones in the old “Radiation King” B&W sets, and the tubes wouldn’t last as long either so the total cost of ownership of a colour TV was guaranteed to be higher than the old B&W people had.

      So therefore everyone said, it made sense to rent one not buy one. But that wasn’t a sustainable business model for those TV rental companies as those Colour TV sets proved to be reliable in part due to the solid state electronics over the old valve B&W models and got a lot cheaper over time so the advantages of the rental v buying changed..

      As a result you don’t see too many TV rental companies still in business these days do we?
      The rental companies that exist now basically rent everything you could want not just TVs. Fewer people rent a TV now and they’re almost at the point of being disposable items.

      The changes that happened to the TV rental business will happen for vehicles, but I don’t see driver less tech changing that landscape for car ownership from a “Own and operate” to “Rent as needed” model quite yet, if indeed in the next 20 years.

      Meantime we have to plan for using what we have, while allowing for future disruption, but not betting the farm on it occurring as and when you expect – as Minister Bridges seems to want to do for driverless tech. But we don’t need “more roads” everywhere under any likely scenario – which is the usual corollary trotted out when driverless tech is being raised as a future gamechanger either.

      1. Blats around a race course – a few
        Sitting in stop start traffic – if you are doing this, then you should be in a bus, I do – we’re on TransportBlog remember 😉
        I have caught many Prius taxi rides and I always am fascinated by the onscreen graphic – fuel economy is what I would expect out of modern Madza 3.

        Note: when Uber gets ubiquitous (or taxis cheaper) I would probably save money by getting rid of my car (second family car since I use PT for work). If autonomous cars (or EV) make that cheaper then that’s great.

        My point is the difference isn’t significant enough to pay the premium (as others have also noted) and if I was willing to pay more, I would prefer a higher spec car to a same priced lower spec hybrid.

  9. There are plenty of studies (NZIER 2014) that encourage Transport policy makers to understand the road optimisation that could be obtained by autonomous cars and to subsidise this technology now instead of building more motorways.

      1. The data you’ve presented in this post is totally irrelevant because people are not going to take ownership of driverless cars.

        People will rent them.

        1. Agree with this ‘People will rent them.’

          But that doesn’t mean this at all: ‘The data you’ve presented in this post is totally irrelevant because people are not going to take ownership of driverless cars.’

  10. It is interesting that there has been a slow uptake of electric cars. This could be due to the fact that car manufacturers only have a very limited range of electric cars. There aren’t any ‘large’ electric cars in NZ (apart from the ludicrously expensive Tesla’s). The only other electric cars on the market are the Nissan Leaf and the Holden Volt I think. If consumers had the choice of electric and petrol engines for all vehicles, then uptake could potentially be higher (assuming that the price difference between petrol and electric engines is at a minimum).

    As for self driving cars, once technology for those have been perfected, there would be no need to own your own car (unless you live on a farm or a really small town). It’ll be pretty cool. Bring on the future!!!

    1. “It is interesting that there has been a slow uptake of electric cars. This could be due to the fact that car manufacturers only have a very limited range of electric cars.”

      The first graph shows that a large increase in the number of models of hybrid cars was not associated with any corresponding increase in market share. Why would it make sense to assume that electric cars would be different?

      1. First of all, having only 50 hybrid models is still quite limited compared with all the models you can get with a petrol or diesel engine. Another reason is that the fuel consumption of many hybrid cars is only marginally better than conventional engines. Also, given that hybrids cost more than a similar petrol/diesel car, consumers are more likely to purchase a petrol/diesel car than a hybrid. Therefore, this causes a slow uptake of hybrid vehicles

  11. Let’s not forget that I’ll be looking forward to better public transport and walking and cycling amnesties too. However, wouldn’t autonomous cars be an extension of public transport to an extent?

  12. The key difference between driverless cars and hybrid/electric vehicles is that driverless cars will offer a completely different experience. Hybrid/electric cars provide the same experience with greater fuel economy. That being said it will be interesting to see how classic cars are handled in a largely self driving fleet. Will they be relegated to track days, will they have to be retrofitted with self driving equipment (surely defeating the point of owning a classic car), or will legislation allow for a mix of human operated and self driving vehicles to cohabit the road at the cost of efficiency.

    1. The NZ government got slapped down when it tried to regulate low-flow showerheads and energy efficient lightbulbs. Why would you assume that it would be able to successfully ban self-drive cars?

      1. They’ve also applied speed limits, lowered alcohol limits etc… The government legislates a lot of things and if self driving vehicles really lower the road toll dramatically they could ban human operated vehicles on the basis of safety. There are also efficiency advantages to having an all self drive fleet. Cars could communicate with each other to let other vehicles know their intentions. This could lead to much shorter following distances and higher road capacity. A human operated vehicle could reduce this efficiency. This is all hypothetical though.

      2. “The NZ government got slapped down when it tried to regulate low-flow showerheads and energy efficient lightbulbs.” Yup I stopped voting Labour and voted National for two elections when the Government decided to tell me how I could wash.

  13. Agree with your post Peter. Fact is a noticeable change to any network improvement is decades off with new technology. We have smart options in the here and now let’s use them.
    Give the high capacity options priority immediately both with space and funding. That will clear width for cycle that is future proof and very cheap. Whatever happens with cars you need people to take other modes for efficiency. Clearly our current solution of just the car is pea brain. Len and David speed the fix up paint bus symbols now and set bus mode free for a start!!

  14. I don’t think that the hybrid amounted to a “radical” new technology. It didn’t change anything except the amount of fuel sold, and that was precious little as pickup trucks and SUVs gained market share. Once in a Prius (I had one and about 1000 km later the hybrid battery died. Got $1000 salvage value out of it), nothing is different from a non-hybrid car. You start it, put it in gear, press the accelerator and go. Then stop, then go again. There are two limiting factors on hybrid market share. One is that the cost of fuel savings is not paid off for many years, so there is no “investment grade” financial return over the ownership period. (You’re better off putting the $3 or $4000 into a savings account.) Instead, they are bought for the purpose of “doing one’s part for the environment”. Nothing wrong with that, and the Prius, at least, is a very good car. The other is manufacturing capacity which is overwhelmingly devoted to normal cars. (Obviously that can change if demand increases, which it has.) Another one, though, is the price of fuel. I would bet that they’re not selling a lot of hybrids right now.

    The problem with the driverless car is not just unproven technology (though it works fine on fixed guideways), but that it is solving a problem we don’t have yet. There is little reason to believe that driverless cars will ease congestion. Safer? Maybe, maybe not. If Microsoft makes the software I’d be careful. People want to be in control; it’s human nature.* Driverless buses may make more sense as long as there are separate lanes or ROWs, but it seems the only advantage there is saving a salary. But you lose the presence of a person who can respond to emergencies, bad behaviour, accidents, and whatever else is helped by immediate human intervention.

    *An illustration from the earliest stages of the US manned space program. The Mercury capsule was designed to be fully autonomous – driverless. The astronauts balked at the idea of being useless cargo, “spam in a can” they called it. So the thing was modified so the astronaut had something to do. I think something similar will take place with driverless cars.

    1. You cant see driverless car pooling taxis easing congestion? You order a car, it turns up to your place, it picks up a few more people in the area, drives them to their similar destinations, all the time you are browsing the Internet, watching TV, or doing some work. 4 or more car trips have been turned into one, and there is no need for carparks at either end.
      It’s basically automated self driving door to door public transport!

      1. So the taxis in Auckland should have fixed congestion then? Are they public transport? Won’t it cost the same or more. What if the computer gives the blue screen or says physical dump in 10sec, What if navigation out 0.01% could be a bumpy ride. Just saying got a long way to go before useful.

  15. Those who can afford to spend a lot of money on a new car will probably be attracted to driver less cars. The rest of us which is the majority probably won’t buy one until the cost is relative to whatever you would currently spend on a car.
    I imagine that uptake among taxi companies may be quick but unless savings in not having to pay a driver are passed onto customers we will all continue to use cheap self driven cars and public transport as we do currently.

    In terms of car pooling to reduce congestion? one of the biggest attractions of the private car over public transport is that it is private

    1. “one of the biggest attractions of the private car over public transport is that it is private”

      That’s also one of it’s biggest down-sides: you own it, so you pay 100% of the costs of car ownership. If something unexpected goes wrong, you’re on the hook for the entire cost.

      For households with a constrained budget, it can be pretty tough to pay the costs of buying a car and keeping it on the road. I’m sure a lot of people would like to have the choice of avoiding those costs – which is where a good, comprehensive public transport network is absolutely essential.

  16. No mention the electric assist bicycle. I feel that will keep me on my bike for a few more years. I wonder if the hybrid or electric cars are really new tech though or old tech adapted for the benefit of the planet and to stretch the day when we run of oil. The recent upsurge in oil production will no doubt hasten the demise of the our present society even maybe humanity. Not life on earth though as there are some shorter living species that will be able to adapt. Educated cockroaches in electric vehicles!

    1. Agreed. Then you also have electric mobility scooters. Aging population, disabilities, or for electric assist getting up parnell rise for anyone. This is affordable technology right now. Good quality cycle lanes help young or old. Fully self powered or assist or fully electric. Seems smart whatever. Let’s beat those cockroaches to it.

  17. Quartz did a post yesterday about when Driverless tech will hit the market from a recent Boston Consulting Group report.

    The takeaway? (only) 1 in 10 cars sold in 2035 will be driverless.

    Hmm, so – 20 years from now 10% of new cars will be driverless
    – and given our current rate of replacement of vehicles if 10% of new car sales are replaced with fully driverless ones it could take well over 50 years to get even half our fleet driverless.
    Of course, if the fleet shrinks in the meantime, as a result of people ditching 2nd and 3rd cars for PT or active modes, then that timeframe may drop.

    They also predict, a “fully” driverless cars for sale by 2025, but that sounds very optimistic timing to me.

    We also seem to be seeing a marketing split developing between “partially driverless” aka “partially automated” and “fully driverless”.

    Sorry, a driverless car is by definition **fully** driverless – that is fully autonomous
    – a car that does some driving automation but still requires a driver is not a (partially) driverless car, its an driver assisting car. And in some ways is dangerous as a driver lulled into a lack of awareness by semi-automated technology doing most of the work is very dangerous when the inevitable happens and the driver has to take control of the vehicle at zero notice.
    Sounds a bit like early plane autopilots.

    I suspect this change of marketing message is coming from the fact that the car makers now realise fully driverless is actually a lot harder than they thought and will take a lot longer.

    But they want to capture the driverless hype today by selling a “partially driverless” vehicle reality sooner.

    One thing is certain if the partially driverless cars are as bad as that sounds, then that may well put the whole notion of anything driverless back several decades once people get jaded and concerned with the huge difference between hype and actual reality – compare this with the “Flying car” debacle.

    Sound familiar?

    1. Yes the provision of individual driverless cars is a very different thing from having a whole city or nation running with a driverless vehicle system. And the alleged economies and efficiencies of bot drive such as motorway platooning etc don’t eventuate when there’s just a few of them about mixed in with the usual kiwi over-confident high self-regarding distracted hoon in charge.

      The gradual addition of these technologies to new cars will almost certainly improve the safety for those with new cars, however, as has always been the case. It may also increase frustration for new car users too, especially those not happy to have their decisions over-ruled by a cautious robot…. safe speeds and following distances and the constant giving way to other road users, especially pedestrians and cyclists, just isn’t the kiwi drivers’ way…. lol.

      And will an robot Audi park itself in a bus stop? Oh, of course it will as all Audi owners get the right to that don’t they?, or at least that seems to be their understanding of how it works, especially in Ponsonby.

      1. LOL, I can see the ripple effects when an Auckland driver cuts into the smallish gap in front of a driverless car (it only needs to be a bit over a metre longer than the lane change car) and if brakes to maintain its following distance

        does a driverless car know if the car in front is under automatic control also?

        1. They will probably communicate with each other, further reducing the user’s control.

          Your example was exactly what I was thinking of, each time the bot car is cut in on, it will drop back to a safe and legal distance [whichever is greater] then allowing it to be cut in on but yet another vehicle controlled by a meat computer- impatience often trumping safety and legality for these as we know. And so on and so on, until the occupant of the law abiding and cautious bot car totally looses his shit and returns the thing to the dealer… [or at least tries to; ‘computer says no’]

          1. And extrapolate that situation out to being in a cautious bot controlled Uber or Taxi cab (you’re paying to sit in/go somewhere).

            And suddenly the appeal of these vehicles as a mass cheap transport option becomes fully illusory.

          2. Communication can only work when cars are running the same system (if running a system anyway).

            The issue with person driven cars cutting in on autonomous cars is what it it triggers the autonomous car to take evasive action (ie. slam on the brakes when the humn behind them isn’t expecting as it is really warrented).

          3. There would have to be one hell of an international standard for a control system if cars are going to be able to communicate with each other (and presumably some sort of central control too).

            Just building that and getting it implemented will take decades.

          4. the only way I can see to avoid this interaction problem is to dedicate motorway lanes to driverless cars and I really can’t see a robust economic case being made for this, particularly if it means displacing other road users, after all it’s hard enough to get justifiable bus lanes on motorways these days

            oh, but wait! there are roads of significance to National, of course and then there’s also “evidence base” requirements for selected projects, which means “I don’t like your project and I don’t believe your numbers”

          5. “And suddenly the appeal of these vehicles as a mass cheap transport option becomes fully illusory”

            The idea has been illusory from the get-go. Driverless cars will not be cheap transport and they won’t “solve” congestion. The primary potential benefit in comparison with self-drive cars will be improved safety but that is decades away.

  18. I can see driverless cars morphing into driverless trains that would use highways. Multi-car consists that could be made up of either cars or larger vehicles not so different from buses. An exclusive right of way would help a lot because if something gets too long it would not be a good neighbour when mixing with private vehicles. In fact, driverlessness could extend to all forms of transportation. There is already technology to allow pilotless planes, and I don’t mean drones, but the market won’t buy that for a long time. But the fact that most air accidents are attributed to pilot error, it could be in the offing.

  19. I think driverless buses make a lot more sense than driverless cars. The technology is pretty damn computer intensive, and needs to really work on a predefined route as the nature of the road needs to be programmed into it. Given the size/space of a bus, the right of way, and the need to operate as many hours as possible it makes more sense given the technological constraints.

  20. this clip from Wired shows the reality of “driverless” cars they are not autonomous, the driver is responsible for the car in relationship to its surroundings and must remain aware of what’s happening and be prepared to take over and override the system at any time,

    so the Mercedes F 015 concept which has a swiveling driver’s seat seems to be overselling the possibilities note that other cars are conspicuously absent in any of the pictures in this article

    1. Have you not seen Googles one. A little 2 seat bubble. No steering wheel or pedals at all. Limited to 20mph but that’s probably just a liability think till the technology improves.

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