Expert Blog

The inside track, V2

February saw the debut of our Inside Track series. It’s a pretty straightforward idea: each month, we gather and summarise some of the best stories about the future of motoring in one blog-post. Consider it your first stop for everything electric, alternative and autonomous.

And now we continue with this, the second post in the series. Here’s some reading material to accompany the cold, early days of spring:

  • Writing for Bloomberg Business, Tom Randall anticipates that ‘the 2020s will be the decade of the electric car’. Why so? Declining costs are a major part of it. ‘Battery prices fell 35 percent last year and are on a trajectory to make unsubsidised electric vehicles as affordable as their gasoline counterparts in the next six years.’
  • If electric cars do take over, will it truly be good for the planet? The environmental scientist Bjørn Lomborg investigates this question in a five-minute video on YouTube, which – whilst not strictly reading material – is certainly worth including in this roundup. Lomborg reminds us that CO2 emissions don’t just come from a car’s exhaust pipe. They come from its production and, in the case of electric cars, from the power plants required to generate the electricity in the first place. In this way, no cars really count as ‘zero emission’.
  • And on to autonomous cars. Vanity Fair carried an article about Google’s great hope for the success of its self-driving vehicle: old people. ‘Self-driving cars might help prevent seniors from getting stranded. Tasks like going to the grocery store or the doctor are no small feat for the 43 million people in the U.S. who are now 65 or older, especially considering that 79 percent of those people live in rural or suburban areas.’
  • Old people might boost the popularity of autonomous cars, but other factors threaten to diminish it. You may have heard about the Google car that recently brushed into a bus, the first accident attributable to the technology in millions of miles of testing. That incident led The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance to ask: can Google's driverless car project survive a fatal accident? This might seem like an overreaction to a minor accident that hurt no-one, particularly when regular cars kill many thousands of people each year, but it’s actually a question that Google’s engineers will be asking themselves. As LaFrance puts it, ‘none of the promise of this technology takes away from the fact that autonomous vehicles still face a thicket of difficult ethical and regulatory uncertainties.’        
  • Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, the autonomous revolution continues apace. The Times reports that, in his forthcoming Budget, George Osborne will fund trials of driverless lorries in the UK. We shall have more coverage of the Budget on this blog, of course, so we won’t add too much here. Suffice to say that this raises the prospect of a very odd sight on our roads, which has already been seen on Swedish roads: ‘trains’ of autonomous lorries driving in a line, just a couple of metres apart from each other.

The Inside Track V3 will be published next month.

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