How the Google car could boost electric-car sales

By Felix Salmon
October 12, 2010
Google's driverless car is one of those technologies which makes me feel old, in a bad way: I would dearly love to have been able to grow up with this technology.

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Google’s driverless car is one of those technologies which makes me feel old, in a bad way: I would dearly love to have been able to grow up with this technology. And I can’t wait for it to arrive: I’m not a very good driver, and I’m sure that taking a Google car would be much safer for both me and for other road users.

It could also cause a radical change in the economics of cars, making it much less attractive to buy them, and much more attractive to buy into something much closer to the NetJets model. Doron Levin has a keen insight:

Cars that don’t need drivers also may not need private owners – since they could be summoned remotely and returned once their journey is complete. Why take on a lease if you can purchase a subscription to a car instead? Car owners who never want to spend a saturday under the hood or in the waiting room of a mechanic’s shop again might quickly adapt to a car subscription model.

My guess is that in the first instance, at least, driverless cars are still going to require a driver sitting behind the wheel, much as airplanes on autopilot still require a pilot at the controls. So sending a driverless car back to its depot at night will be non-trivial. But eventually we’ll get there, and you’ll be able to rent a truck when you need a truck, or a zippy sportscar when you’re so inclined, or a big family wagon only when you need it.

One of the big problems with cars right now is that families buy the biggest car they’re ever likely to need. The family car might just be used to drive a single person to work and back most of the time, but because it might used for a family camping holiday once every year or two, the family ends up buying something huge, and the expense of that work commute rises substantially as a result.

Similarly, one of the big reasons why people are wary of electric cars is that every so often they want to take long car journeys which can’t be managed on a single charge. Up until now, the only solution to that problem is either to have a second, gasoline-based, car, or else to have a nationwide network of recharging stations which in any case are likely to take far too long to recharge the battery.

Car subscriptions would be a much better solution. You use an electric car most of the time, and then when you need something with greater range, you just swap it out for one of those instead.

So bring on the self-driving car! It could be exactly what we need to get most of us driving electric.

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Comments
7 comments so far

“My guess is that in the first instance, at least, driverless cars are still going to require a driver sitting behind the wheel, much as airplanes on autopilot still require a pilot at the controls.”

Yes indeed and the pilots are still required to monitor the controls for signs of problems. Unfortunately you hear stories of pilots disregarding that responsibility for various reasons sometimes resulting in accidents. Now imagine hundreds of cars packed onto a highway where the drivers are given another excuse to be irresponsible and not pay attention. When an accident happens now the driver gets to legitimately say “It’s not my fault the car is supposed to drive itself”? No thank you, I do not want to be around for driverless cars.

Posted by iflydaplanes | Report as abusive

“Similarly, one of the big reasons why people are wary of electric cars is that every so often they want to take long car journeys which can’t be managed on a single charge. Up until now, the only solution to that problem is either to have a second, gasoline-based, car, or else to have a nationwide network of recharging stations which in any case are likely to take far too long to recharge the battery.”

No, there is another option for long trips by electric car owners – rental cars. I would bet that for most people, the daily savings realized by driving a smaller, electric car for commuting will be far greater than the amount spent on occasionally renting a large car for out-of-town trips. More than one car rental company offers special rates for local drivers, and there are also city-based car rental services for hourly rentals. We don’t need a nationwide network of recharging stations; I would rather the money spent to deploy such a network be spent on R&D for higher capacity batteries.

Posted by OnTheTimes | Report as abusive

The subscription model you describe might work in a city where parking is at a premium and driving may not be an everyday affair (like the Zipcar model). It won’t work as you describe in the suburbs or rural areas. How about a lease that lets you exchange a basic commuter car for the ride you need for the weekend?

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

As much as I agree with OnTheTimes, as I have a small car (not electric though) and rent for those long interstate trips (I would rather be in a comfortable car, that is much, much newer and reliable than my car) it seems most people aren’t all that rational about cars. Kind of like not all that rational about buying a bigger, more expensive house, because they believed house prices only go up!!!
But if we could ever get to that model, I would be all for it, as I am already kinda of doing it now (assuming electric cars get cheap – and I mean as cheap as a corolla).

Posted by fresnodan | Report as abusive

http://media.volkswagen2028.com/etc/medi alib/vwcms/virtualmaster/vw2028/html/lan g_selection.Par.0001.File.html

Volkswagen already ahead of you there Felix, imagine being able to summon up an Audi R8 at will….

Posted by KatyH | Report as abusive

* EVs : A Game Changer with massive Potential.

1. The wave of plug-in cars might be a big boon to electrical utilities so they can afford to broaden smart grid & renewable energy base.
 
2. Better still, they will charge mostly overnight with the untapped, or mostly WASTED electricity without having to build another power plant, as hydro & Wind & nuclear power plants keep operating around the clock.
 
 
3. Wind energy & e-cars charging overnight would be a perfect paring.

4. Used Batteries Can Be Used In Smart Grids.
 
5. EVEN AFTER :

To the best of my knowledge, the battery in EVs manages to power houses for upwards of 3 days or so. Also, for a majority of motorists, their driving time is claimed to stand at around 1 hour.
 
By storing power from cheaper off-peak periods, the battery in EVs is able to power a house during expensive peak periods, even better, sell excess power back to the grid simultaneously, EVEN AFTER its automotive life.

6. Batteries will become more efficient on the whole and their price will drop, whereas the oil will simply go up and up as it becomes more scarce. As simple as that.

Posted by hsr0601 | Report as abusive

Car subscriptions sound like a really great idea. We wouldn’t need to always worry about when we should send our cars for servicing, and financially it would be much less of a burden. I hope this idea spreads around!

Peter
http://www.pmwltd.co.uk/

Posted by Peter_Mould | Report as abusive
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