Sunday, September 28, 2014

Electric cars vs. smart cars

Over the past year or so, there has been a growing awareness that autonomous, self-driving cars could disrupt transportation in a big way and might even do so sooner rather than later. Some of us who closely follow automotive technology have seen this potential for a number of years. The topic is now getting a lot of airplay, sparked in large measure by Google's announcements about its R&D of self-driving cars.

I've been mulling over what it means for other automotive technologies, especially those associated with energy use, such as electric vehicles (EVs) that plug into the the power sector for fuel rather than rely on a liquid fuel such as gasoline. As noted in a post from a few years ago, EVs are not close to being cost effective for cutting carbon compared to ongoing improvements in gasoline vehicle efficiency. Hence my belief that policies that try to push EVs into the market are misguided, and that for the time being it makes more sense to foster the adoption of connected and automated vehicles.

This thinking has been explained in several short pieces published elsewhere, so no point in rehashing those arguments here (though thoughtful comments are welcome). Those posts on other sites include:

Of Carts and Horses, Cars and Smarts, on the University of Michigan Conversation blog.

The Smarter Road to Electric Cars, on Automotive Engineering International Online.

Driverless Cars before Electric Ones, on The Energy Collective. 

Cars Should Tune In Sooner, Plug In Later, as self-published on my AutoEcoRating site.

This last piece listed was the first one published and although it is substantively the same as the Energy Collective version, it may still be of interest because it's gotten the most flaming comments to date.

Postscript: I've since written an essay on "What's Next for the Automobile?" published as the introduction to a Scientific American special issue entitled The Rise of the Automobile, in January 2015.