By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario — March 12, 2018 — In this week’s AV Report, more human attacks on AVs, self-driving semis on the job, Magna’s industry outlook, and much, much more.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles released its latest report on accidents involving autonomous vehicles (AVs). There have been six collisions involving AVs in the state since the beginning of 2018. Interestingly, two of these involve human attacks on AVs. According to the latest government report on AV accidents, the most recent incident involving “light violence” against a self-driving car occurred in San Francisco in January. According to the report an AV operated by GM’s Cruise division was “stopped behind a taxi” when the driver got out, “approached the Cruise AV and slapped the front passenger window, causing a scratch. There were no injuries and police were not called.” One wonders who would have filed a report considering there was no driver. But it is interesting to consider that it might be the case that humans are more likely to take out their road rage on a car that doesn’t have a driver. If there is no human in a car, someone in the heat of an angry moment might feel less of a sense of restraint. Presumably a road rage-filled driver might be more likely to attack an AV. The report also notes that, just a few weeks earlier, another Cruise AV was attempting to make a right-hand turn, when a pedestrian ignored a Do Not Walk sign, and struck, “the left side of the Cruise AV’s rear bumper and hatch with his entire body.” According to the report, “there were no injuries, but the Cruise AV sustained some damage to its left rear light.” The report notes that the “police were not called.” What would be the point?
-Otto is the self-driving truck company that Uber bought back in August of 2016. The ride sharing firm announced this past week that the company has already been delivering freight around Arizona. Several media outlets report that the company’s trucks are working out as expected. According to one story, “The company would not specify how many self-driving trucks were operating in Arizona nor how many companies it was working with or the number of shipments that have been delivered. Uber simply said its self-driving trucks had performed ‘thousands’ of rides since the beginning of the year, a ‘significant portion’ of which have been in autonomous mode.” Critics of AVs warn that self-driving trucks will lead to widespread unemployment. The single most common job description for males in North America is “truck driver.” But trucking companies will rapidly adopt self-driving trucks. Whatever company does so first will have huge business advantage over companies that continue to employ and pay drivers. On the other hand, the cost of shipping should radically decrease if there is no need to pay a driver. Those savings are yet to accrue, as the cost of developing these trucks is hugely cash intensive, for now anyway. According to a media report, “it’s impossible to tell how much money the company has made from the shipments they’ve delivered with these trucks, and it’s likely it’d be a drop in the bucket compared to how much Uber has spent and will continue to spend on developing, retrofitting and owning the trucks. But, it is one of the first few examples of a company actually commercializing autonomous vehicles as a service.” The story also notes that, “Uber isn’t alone in the space, however. In fact, trucking startup Embark beat the company to the punch and started shipping Frigidaire refrigerators between Texas and California late last year.”
-When Canadian auto parts manufacturer Magna International held an “investor day” in New York recently, management at the company stated they expect the auto industry to begin to be “disptruted” by AVs in the years after 2024. Magna executives forecast steady increases in vehicle production globally until 2024, but after that the “growth of ride-sharing services and autonomous vehicles and the decisions cities make about traffic and pollution could begin to affect output by the following year.” That is, the total number of vehicles built each year will peak and level off. OEMs built 95 million vehicles last year, and production is expected to grow to 109 million by 2024, but after that point total vehicle construction will stop rising as AVs and worries about climate change begin to affect the output of the auto industry. These shifts will have effects on the type of product that Magna makes. The CEO of Magna, Don Walker, was quoted as saying, “If megacities say, ‘We’re only going to allow golf carts running around,’ then obviously vehicles will be different.” The city of Rome recently announced it will ban diesel vehicles form the city centre by 2024. Several other European cities have made similar comments of late. A court in Germany recently ruled that cities in that country can enact such a ban. In the U.K. the city of Oxford is “proposing to create a zero-emission zone in its city centre by 2035.” These policies will limit growth in vehicle production. According to Magna’s chief marketing officer, “Over time, we do see a plateau in production volumes.” Ride sharing fleets that utilize AVs will also work to level off the number of autos built as urban dwellers give up single car ownership. According to a media report of the Magna event the coming shifts are “perhaps seven to ten years down the road and will depend in part on the growth of ride-sharing services, such as Uber, Lyft and others. The cost of such services is between U.S. $2 and U.S. $3 a mile, but companies are targeting a cost of U.S. $1 a mile.” Walker was quoted as saying, “Once they get to that cost, there’s going to be a compelling change in the industry, but right now it’s just too expensive.” The report went on to state that, “Mr. Walker said he doesn’t believe anyone in the industry knows precisely what impact ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles will have on production. But company officials said Magna sees a huge market in making components for autonomous vehicles and is already receiving inquiries from ride-sharing services about whether its Magna Steyr vehicle assembly business could make or help develop vehicles for them. Magna sees the market for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) used in autonomous vehicles worth between U.S. $80 billion and U.S. $95 billion annually by 2030.”
-The ride-hailing company Lyft is working to market itself as a more responsible company than its direct competitor, Uber. It’s now well-known that Uber has developed a bit of a negative reputation for both its aggressive business tactics as well as the behaviour of some of its top executives. In a bid to promote itself as the more enlightened ride sharing company Lyft last week announced that, “it will provide free rides to students attending the March for Our Lives rallies against gun violence, which are being held in cities around the country at the end of this month.” In the wake of the Parkland school shooting students are planning a major series of protests calling for new laws around gun ownership. According to a news report, “Major corporations, including Delta and United Airlines, the rental car companies Hertz and Avis, and MetLife Insurance, to cut ties with the National Rifle Association. But Lyft’s move is a little different, in that it is an active show of support. And it is a savvy one: In response to the news, hundreds of tweets by other users suggested they’d be using the service in lieu of Uber, the country’s leading ride-hailing company.” An executive with Lyft was quoted as saying, “We’re not the nice guys. We’re a better boyfriend.” Shameless, really.
-Major global oil producer British Petroleum has just released its latest annual Energy Outlook document, which sees “peak oil on the horizon for the first time – driven by the rise of shared and autonomous electric vehicles.” Peak oil, of course, is the idea that daily global production of crude oil, having risen steadily for the century and a half since the start of the oil age around 1858, will level off, stop rising and then begin to decline for another century and a half. The idea is the central takeaway from the so-called “flow-based” method of analyzing future availability of crude developed by one-time Shell Oil geophysicist Marion King Hubbert. The crust and combative scientist designed and built Shell Oil’s highly regarded basic research laboratory in Houston in the 1950s. Hubbert was responsible for many basic discoveries about how it is petroleum is trapped in the earth’s crust. His discoveries helped Shell get more oil out of the ground. He is a legend in the oil industry, is a member of both the U.S. and Canadian petroleum hall of fame. He worked on his bell-curve based method for estimating future availability of crude in his spare time. He assumed global production of crude oil would peak early in the 21st century, or right about now. Hubbert went public with his method against the wishes of Shell executives in 1956 in a bid to warn the culture about the issue of peak oil. To that point he was just discussing it with other Shell scientists in the cafeteria at lunch. Modern disciples of Hubbert formed an activist movement in the first decade of this millennium in a bid to make his warning about peak production of crude oil known to the wider culture. PB’s use of the term “peak oil” is a bit different than the Hubbertian use of the word. Hubbert assumed ongoing depletion in existing oil fields and dwindling discoveries would see flow decline after peak. PB is predicting that the arrival of AVs and electric cars in great numbers after 2030 will limit the amount of oil used. Production of crude will dwindle, not because of geology, but because of reduced demand according to BP. According to the company’s latest outlook document: “Under the Evolving Transition (ET) scenario, which assumes that policies and technology continue to evolve at a speed similar to that seen in recent past, oil demand slows and eventually plateaus in the late 2030s. At the same time, the total passenger vehicle fleet will nearly double to 2 billion cars by 2040 – including more than 320 million EVs, up from roughly 3 million today.” This represents a significant increase over previous forecasts according to a media report. “By the end of BP’s forecast period, the number of EVs will have grown to around 15 percent of the total car fleet. BP examined vehicle kilometres travelled while powered by electricity to account for the combined impact of vehicle electrification, shared mobility and autonomous driving. EVs are expected to supply the vast majority of shared, autonomous transportation due to lower maintenance costs and lower emissions profile,” according to the story. “In particular, the sharp fall in the cost of car travel associated with fully autonomous cars, which start to become available in the early 2020s, leads to a substantial increase in shared mobility (and use of EVs) in the 2030s. By the end of the forecast period in the Energy Outlook, these changes will actually begin to make a dent in oil use. Liquid fuel demand from the car fleet is forecast to hit to 18.6 million barrels per day in 2040, down slightly from 18.7 million barrels per day in 2016. Oil will continue to dominate across all segments of the transportation sector through 2040, despite the rise of alternatives. Efficiency gains in passenger and freight transport, as well as aviation and marine, will increase energy use in transport by only 25 percent over the forecast period, which is far less than the 80 percent increase during the previous 25 years. Strict new policies on plastics consumption could curb oil demand by as much as 2 million barrels per day, which is roughly the same impact forecast from EVs.”