How Many Cars Will We Need in the Future?

Internet pioneer and robocar afficionado Brad Templeton has a post up questioning whether self-driving cars will increase or decrease auto manufacturing.

The conventional wisdom is that self-driving cars will decrease the number of cars produced, because we can share cars, instead of purchasing lots of cars and then leaving them parked most of the time.

Templeton makes the excellent point that there the total volume of cars produced will be equal to:

Total Vehicle Miles per Year / Average Vehicle Lifetime in Miles

Both the numerator and the denominator are likely to change as we shift toward self-driving cars.

Total Miles will increase as people opt to ride in self-driving cars instead of fly, walk, bike, or stay put.

Average Lifetime is harder to predict, since some factors will drive lower lifetimes and others will drive higher lifetimes.

Of the factors above, sharing rides and making longer-lived cars could reduce the number of cars needed, and the reduction in car cost reduces the total the world spends on cars (as well as the energy required to build them.) Perhaps those factors might counter the additional travel and the empty miles.

One factor will overwhelm all of this, however. Cheap robotaxi service under 50 cents/mile will suddenly make personal car transportation economically accessible. Drop to 30 cents/mile or even 10 cents/mile in poorer economies, and we’re talking vastly more accessible to billions of new people. The market may already be mostly saturated in the United States which has vast car ownership, but the global average is about 15%. It’s going to grow, and by a lot. The car industry is facing a boom, not a bust from this technology.

This may sound like a nightmare to those who blame private cars for many of our environmental and urban woes. Fortunately the picture is not quite the same with these cars which are far more likely to be efficient, low-emitting and sustainable, indeed more sustainable than the transit systems we use today. (Indeed, they could be combined with a new vision of even more sustainable transit during peak times.)

The entire post is difficult to excerpt and covers a number of interesting points. Read the whole thing.

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