Autonomous, shared and electric vehicles are expected to dominate the roads in the coming decades. Some projections show these vehicles becoming the primary mode of passenger transportation by 2031.
Bringing the autonomous, shared and electric mobility trifecta to fruition is a goal that is within reach. But how, exactly, will we get there?
That’s what I’ll be discussing with Adam Gromis, Uber's public policy manager for sustainability and environmental impact, during a June 28 session at GTM’s upcoming Grid Edge World Forum conference and expo in San Jose.
Uber is pushing ahead with its self-driving vehicle research in the U.S., despite a recent legal challenge from Alphabet, the parent company of Waymo, formerly Google’s former self-driving vehicle unit. The lawsuit is a testament to just how competitive this space is and how much potential companies see.
In the same vein, Mark Fields, former CEO of Ford Motor Company, was reportedly pushed out of his leadership role earlier this month for failing to reposition the company to succeed in a new mobility future.
While self-driving cars aren’t required to be electric, electric drivetrains offer a quieter ride and lower maintenance costs, and can provide a seamless refueling experience with wireless charging. That’s in addition to the fact that EVs do not produce tailpipe emissions, which is becoming less of niche environmental consideration and more of a mandate as cities become more densely populated and vehicle emissions verge on becoming recognized as a serious health risk -- which is already the case in some places.
With a wildly successful shared vehicle platform up and running and autonomous vehicle development well underway, Uber is now exploring the third element of the sustainable transportation trifecta: electrification.
In mid-April, the company launched its first electric vehicle program in the U.S., based in Portland, Oregon. The initiative includes partnering with Drive Oregon to expand EV education and creating new incentives to promote EV adoption, similar to a program Uber launched in London. The company has also run EV pilots in Lisbon, Madrid, Johannesburg and Paris.
There are currently around 100 EV drivers among Uber’s roughly 6,000 active drivers in the Portland metro area, which already represents a higher percentage of EV drivers than in the general public. The goal of the new initiative is to add hundreds more through a vehicle-leasing option, an EV Ambassador program and a public outreach campaign, among other things.
“We think we can be helpful as Portland and other cities try to figure out how to move toward more sustainable mobility and drive electrification in the vehicle fleet,” said Gromis, in an interview. Uber also has tools that can help “extend the benefits of zero-emissions travel to more people, to low-income communities and other segments of the population that need mobility,” he said.
A typical passenger car sits idle 96 percent of the time. Uber has the technology platform to maximize the use of those resources.
“It’s less about a government or nonprofit or utility thinking, ‘How do I get an EV in every household?’ and more about getting people to go places in EVs more on a miles and trips basis,” Gromis said.
If Uber and other mobility companies don’t move into vehicle electrification, autonomous and shared vehicles could actually worsen carbon pollution by making personal vehicle travel easier and more convenient.
How Uber and others will do this is still playing out. Uber doesn’t own the vehicles that use its platform, but the company can still play a major role in getting more EVs on the road and in using its public-facing brand and giant user base to build demand for electrified mobility. Uber has already found through programs in Europe and Africa that EV drivers are rated higher than drivers who use conventional gas-powered cars, and the EV drivers themselves are more engaged on the Uber platform. The company is now thinking about how to leverage these insights to further EV adoption.
Uber could also play a more technical role in the EV ecosystem. The company has access to mountains of data that could inform the placement of charging stations and could help manage the impact EVs have on the electric grid. At the same time, utilities have a unique opportunity to partner with members of the transportation sector, like Uber, and play a pivotal role in shaping the future of mobility.
Gromis will detail how Uber is working with partners to expand vehicle electrification on the “Building an EV Infrastructure Market” panel at Grid Edge World Forum in San Jose, taking place June 27-29.
“We’re absolutely plugged in and looking for ways to be moving toward that dreamy future of high-efficiency mobility that includes lots of components -- from ride-sharing to autonomous drive and electric mobility,” he said.