On June 20, 2017 the Wall Street Journal issued an article under the headline „The end of car ownership – Ride sharing and self-driving will redefine our relationship with cars. Auto makers and startups are already gearing up for the change“ (see: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-end-of-car-ownership-1498011001). The article is worth reading, however I perceive it as far too optimistic with regard to the future market potential of shared self-driving electric cars. In fact the article could be written by the Marketing&Promotion departments of Tesla and Uber. It cries for a counterplea, which I am happy to provide in the following.
Sorry, Tesla, Uber and all the other self-proclaimed „disruptors“ of global mobility based on shared self-driving electric cars, I’ve got some bad news for you: The revolution will not happen – at least not through the technology, concepts and business models provided by you and your shared self-driving electric cars.
What brings me to this opinion? Well, in fact I am convinced, that your technology, concepts and business models are neither customer-driven nor do they solve real problems. Instead they are only scratching at the surface. Shared self-driving electric cars are primarily a „yuppie snowflake nerd hype“ (as one of the readers of the Wall Street Journal article above deridingly dared to remark) initiated and promoted by biased „investors“ who primarily want to earn big bucks, but unfortunately are neither focussed on sustainably resolving major global problems, no did they properly think the whole concept through up to the end.
Individual mobility based on combustion engine technology is almost 150 years old and its increased utilization by hundreds of millions of drivers certainly led to various significant global problems and aberrations, such as air pollution, traffic jams or even gridlocks. However shared self-driving electric cars can and will not solve these problems and aberrations in an adequate, convincing and sustainable way.
<EXCURSUS: DEVELOPMENT OF GLOBAL POPULATION (PEOPLE&CARS)>
According to the United Nations (UN) the world population of people will grow from approx. 7.6 billion people in 2017 to approx. 9.8 billion people in 2050. By 2050 approx. 1.3 billion people are expected to live in „more developed regions“ versus 8.5 billion people in „less developed regions“.
By 2050 approx. 5.27 billion people (= approx. 54% of the overall world population) will according to the UN Total Population Report live in the following top 10 countries (source: https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Download/Probabilistic/Population/):
- India: 1.66 billion people
- China: 1.36 billion people
- Nigeria: 0.41 billion people
- USA: 0.39 billion people
- Indonesia: 0,32 billion people
- Pakistan: 0,31 billion people
- Brazil: 0,23 billion people
- Congo: 0.20 billion people
- Bangladesh: 0.20 billion people
- Ethiopia: 0.19 billion people
In terms of population of cars, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reported in 2016 a prognosis, which is based on figures provided by the research house Bernstein. According to this prognosis, the number of cars worldwide is set to double within 25 years from 2015 to 2040 (see: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/04/the-number-of-cars-worldwide-is-set-to-double-by-2040) – more concrete: the global number of passenger vehicles will increase from from 1.1 billion in 2015 to 2.0 billion in 2040, whereas the global number of motor trucks will increase from 0.38 billion in 2015 to 0.79 billion in 2040.
Based on this prognosis, we will probably not be totally wrong, if we assume, that the total number of passenger vehicles in 2050 will be around 2.35 billion and the total number of motor trucks around 0.95 billion – both on a global basis. In the nutshell this means that in 2050 approx. 9.8 billion people around the globe will utilize approx. 3.3 billion passenger vehicles and motor trucks – which is roughly a 33.7% coverage.
Germany, which is famous for its car manufacturing industry (and its reliable statistics), could be used as an illustrative example for what happens, if societies grow and become more wealthy.The following data are an abstract from a table provided by the German Federal Office for Motor Traffic under https://www.kba.de/DE/Statistik/Fahrzeuge/Bestand/FahrzeugklassenAufbauarten/b_fzkl_zeitreihe.html, which shows, that the total number of vehicles in Germany increased within the last 57 years from approx. 8 million in 1960 by almost 600% to approx. 55.6 million in 2017. Approx. 90% of these vehicles are today passenger vehicles and motorcycles (in 1960 it was a slightly smaller percentage of approx. 80%).
This huge increase of the number of vehicles in total reflects the development of income and wealth in Germany in course of the „Wirtschaftswunder“ after the second world war. People became more wealthy and at the top of their wish list was an own car, an own house, good education for their kids as well as nice holiday trips and good food.
For the (German) people in the 1960s and 1970s own cars were status symbols, which allowed these people to demonstrate to their friends, neighbors and fellow workers that they „made it“ and they were able „to afford something“.
<END OF EXCURSUS>
So, what do these numbers and insights mean for the disruption of global mobility? Note: The following hypotheses are consciously formulated in a provocative way, since I want to initiate a controversial discussion:
- The business model of shared economy does not adequately reflect human nature, dreams and wishes – at least not in the area of individual mobility. Cars have been in the past personal and individual status symbols for citizens with increasing income and wealth – and they will continue to be this at least for some decades. I do not see any reason, why this behavioral pattern shouldn’t apply for India, China, Nigeria and the other evolving countries shown in the UN list above. In addition shared self-driving electric cars do neither resolve important personal issues, the vast majority of potential customers has to cope with, nor do they provide substantial personal benefits for potential customers, as e.g. the iPhone did, when it was introduced in 2007. If the logic of shared economy (and automated functioning) was so striking, the citizens of developed countries all would already live in large multifamily residences or skyscrapers with elevators and concierge services or changing accommodations frequently rented on a temporary basis – obviously this is not the case.
- The global revenue of rental car companies in 2016 was estimated at around 50 billion USD p.a. (approx. 50% of it allocated to the US) – which is a ridiculous small number compared to the combined revenue of all global car manufacturers, which is at least 25 to 30 times higher (between 1.25 and 1.5 trillion USD p.a.). Rental car companies have been in the market already for decades and their business model is not completely different from the business model offered by Uber and other shared economy protagonists with regard to the utilization of one vehicle by multiple users with pay per use charging model. According to the German Environmental Agency, the market share of car-sharing in Germany is currently still below 1%.
- The concept of passenger cars (doesn’t matter if powered by combustion engines or electric power engines) will not be able to resolve the problem of traffic jams or gridlocks as long as it is bound to the naturally limited public traffic/transport infrastructure (i.e. streets, highways) including its inherent effort for keeping this infrastructure clean and in order. Autonomous driving technology may help to distribute the increasing individual traffic better across the limited number of streets and highways, but under consideration of the significant growth rates for population of people and cars on a global basis this doesn’t seem to be a real breakthrough concept.
- Public ground transportation offerings in form of railways, suburban railways, underground railways, busses or tramways have been available for centuries, however there is still a significant higher number of citizens, which prefers to use its own cars for personal mobility purposes. According to the German Environmental Agency, the market share of public ground transportation in Germany is for example below 10%.
- Ultralight or microlight aviation is from my point of view an extremely interesting and more promising approach, than individual passenger cars since ultralight planes do no require expensive public traffic/transport infrastructure, you are not bound to roads, where you can get stuck in traffic jams, and vertical take-off planes (such as the Lilium Jet, see: https://lilium.com/) are even able to start and land nearly everywhere. With a travel speed of 300 km/h and a travel range of 300 km they are already today a serious and considerable alternative to passenger vehicles. However flying an ultralight plane certainly requires much more skills and experience than driving a car. On the other hand this issue could mid-term be resolved with „self-flying“ (autonomous) ultralight planes, which can be handled as well by pilots or passengers with lower skills and experience level. Coincidentally (?!?) one day after the promotion article for Tesla&Uber mentioned at the beginning, the Wall Street Journal issued on June 21, 2017 another article under the headline „The flying car may be getting off the ground“ (see: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-flying-car-may-be-getting-off-the-ground-1498010760).
- The brings me to the last major point, which is environmental protection. Air pollution and global warming are certainly aberrations, which can’t be taken serious enough – particularly from the perspective of evolving countries with growing population like India, China, or Nigeria, where air and water pollution already today cause significant problems. However, substituting an individual passenger car with a combustion engine by an individual passenger car with electric power system doesn’t seem to me like a convincing breakthrough approach for these problems. This applies even more, as long as it is not clear and proven, that individual passenger cars with electric power systems have really a significantly better CO2 emission balance than individual passenger cars with combustion engine or fuel cells if you include the CO2 emission resulting from the production of the battery. Just by logical thinking it becomes clear that transportation of 50 people in a bus is more eco-friendly than 50 people driving in their own individual passenger vehicles – which brings us back to the points no. 3 and 4 in the aforementioned list.
Under consideration of the aforementioned facts and arguments I do not believe, that shared self-driving electric cars are a convincing and adequate answer to the major problems caused by an increasing number of people and vehicles with traditional combustion engines. Tesla, Uber and other self-proclaimed protagonists of the shared self-driving electric car industry are far away from disrupting global mobility, since their technology, concepts and business models are neither customer-driven nor do they deliver a significant and sustainable contribution to the resolution of environmental pollution or gridlocks. Instead, Tesla and Uber are just riding a wave powered by so called „investors“ who caused a huge hype with ridiculous high market capitalizations primarily because they want to earn money instead of providing breakthrough answers to burning questions. Ultralight or microlight aviation with vertical take-off and (autonomous) self-flying capabilities is a much more promising approach (possibly combined with an electric power system if this technology is proven to be more eco-friendly than other power trains, such as e.g. the fuel cell).
Just my 5 Cent. And now I am interested in your feedback …
P.S.: Continuative Information (unfortunately only available in German language) comprising some valuable facts, which I utilized in my argumentation:
- Tagesschau article issued on August 18, 2016 under the headline „Mietwagen-Branche im Wandel – Im Rennen um die mobile Zukunft“: https://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/autovermietung-101.html
- Market data provided by the German Environmental Agency on July 6, 2017 for the topic of „Mobility“: http://www.umweltbundesamt.de/daten/private-haushalte-konsum/gruene-produkte-marktzahlen/marktdaten-bereich-mobilitaet
- Fool.de article issued on June 27, 2017 under the headline „No, your Tesla will not have equalized its CO2 balance within 8.2 years“: https://www.fool.de/2017/06/27/nein-dein-tesla-wird-seine-co2-bilanzen-nicht-in-82-jahren-ausgeglichen-haben/