Navigant Research Blog

Driverless Shuttles Look to Move EV Market

— June 5, 2018

While partially automated passenger vehicles are becoming notorious due to a recent string of accidents, slower driverless shuttles are starting to safely (so far) address the last-mile transportation conundrum. Fully automated vehicles are moving people for short distances in many cities globally, collecting data and learning lessons that could benefit the larger automated driving market.

EasyMile, a Toulouse, France-based company that specializes in automated vehicle technology, is one of numerous companies that has developed or is currently working on electric automated shuttles. EasyMile driverless shuttles are transporting passengers in cities across Europe and North America. The company has projects underway or in development in Norway; France; Gainesville, Florida; San Ramon, California; Arlington, Texas; and Denver, Colorado. In May, EasyMile received approval to operate its vehicles on public roads in mixed traffic in California. This is the company’s first such pilot project in the state, according to Lauren Isaac, director of Business Initiatives at EasyMile.

Campuses Are Ideal Test Beds

Isaac said campuses with private roads, such as business parks, hospitals, and universities, are ideal operating sites for these driverless shuttles because they don’t require navigating the ever-changing regulatory process needed for public roads. EasyMile’s EZ10 shuttles operate on fixed or on-demand routes and do not require human drivers. In some instances, operators are present to monitor the vehicles, talk to customers, and comply with local regulations—even though the vehicles don’t have a steering wheel or brakes.

The all-electric EV10 shuttles can be programmed to open the doors at every stop and complete the route. They can also be programed to only stop when passengers are detected or provide point-to-point delivery based on passenger requests via a mobile phone app. The vehicles’ average speed is around 15 mph; however, they can reach maximum speeds of 25 miles per hour depending on the application.

EasyMile’s US headquarters are within Panasonic’s Peña Station campus, located near the Denver International Airport. Isaac expects that the planned shuttle service there will be transporting people between nearby bus and train station stops sometime this summer. “EasyMile is excited to provide the first automated shuttle operation transporting people between a bus and rail station,” said Isaac.

Growing Crowd Pursuing This Niche

EasyMile is part of a growing crowd of companies pursuing the burgeoning automated shuttle niche. Ann Arbor, Michigan-based May Mobility operated a pilot with automated vehicles delivering Bedrock employees around a section of downtown Detroit in fall 2017 and plans additional tests in 2018. Apple, which has invested significantly in automated vehicle technology development, recently was rumored to be in a partnership with Volkswagen to convert shuttles to automated at the company’s headquarters. Luxury EV maker Fisker also has an automated electric shuttle in development known as the Orbit.

Shuttles Act as a Linchpin

A growing number of cities see emissions-free shuttles as a linchpin in improving urban air quality and reducing congestion while also expanding the use of public transit by filling the last-mile gaps and transit deserts. The cities of Houston, Texas, Peachtree Corners, Georgia, and Providence, Rhode Island have announced intentions to pilot automated shuttles. By focusing on low speed, fixed loop trials, automated shuttles are gaining valuable experience while avoiding being in the headlines for the wrong reasons.


The Need to Balance Ride-Hailing Costs and Benefits

— April 26, 2018

People who frequently use ride-hailing and carsharing services enjoy the flexibility and freedom that comes from operating or owning a car. Others complain about the perceived shift back to personal car use from public transit and increases in traffic congestion.

Perspectives from Texas

Case in point is the city of Austin, Texas, where Uber and Lyft have returned after a 2-year hiatus. According to Automotive News, not everyone in the city was happy to see the services return, with some residents miffed about the increasing congestion. Adding to the fray in Austin is General Motors, which recently brought in a fleet of all-electric Chevrolet Bolts via its Maven Gig rental program. The Bolts are offered to people without a car who want to work for the ride-hailing and delivery services, with drivers paying weekly rental fees. The Bolts provide the benefits of zero-emissions driving, but still add to the number of vehicles on city streets.

Austin was rated as one of the 26 best US cities to be an Uber driver based on analysis of earnings per trip. All of these cities will likely see more ride-hailing traffic in the coming years. According to Navigant Research’s Mobility as a Service report, the number of drivers working for ride-hailing services in North America will grow by 20% annually and surpass 5 million in 2026. The benefits and costs of these services to the cities where they operate will continue to generate debate.

Are Millennials Killing the Personal Vehicle, Too?

There have been several studies on the impact of ride-hailing, including analysis by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. According to a recent report, ride-hailing customers report using public buses, light rail, and bicycles less, but actually walked and took trains more. While traffic may be increasing, parking is getting easier as people are parking at destinations less, and many cities are seeing declining rates in car ownership. According to UC Davis data, 9% of millennials who use ride-hailing services disposed of one vehicle in their household, and others have delayed car ownership. As the frequency of using ride-hailing services increases, the likelihood of giving up a car rises, while vehicle miles traveled in personally owned vehicles declines.

Sharing Services Continue to Gain Popularity

Between 2010 and 2015, several of the largest US cities saw declines in vehicle ownership among millennials, including Seattle, Detroit, Washington, DC, New York, and San Francisco. The decreases in vehicle ownership are likely to continue as ride-hailing and carsharing services rise in the coming years.

There are positive repercussions for urban land use with the reduction of vehicle ownership and personally owned vehicle trips. Eliminating parking spots in the urban core frees up spaces for greening cities and other uses that are more aesthetically pleasing than parking. Reduced vehicle ownership will make more spots available in residential areas for those drivers who retain their cars.

Economic Benefits

Ride-hailing services also are good for the economy as customers can freely travel to areas with limited parking, stay out later, and indulge in drinking alcohol knowing that a safe, reliable ride is available in minutes. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania found a correlation between the presence of Uber and reductions in drunk driving, a safety benefit for all. Another benefit is less costly transportation access for an aging population and people with disabilities. Uber recently announced the UberHealth service, which enables caregivers to book appointments for patients.

Ride-hailing should not be left unchecked to create more traffic problems and reduce use of public transit. That said, the benefits of ride-hailing services for customers and local economies are real.


A Humble Pickup Bed May Point to the Future of Mobility as a Service

— March 13, 2018

The US auto market is no longer the largest in the world, having been surpassed by China. However, it does lead the world in one thing: pickup trucks—no one loves a large pickup truck the way Americans do. While many may consider the pickup truck a crude, agricultural implement, over the past two decades it has become anything but. The debut of the redesigned 2019 GMC Sierra brings with it a fascinating new bit of tech that may well play a key role in the future of mobility as a service applications.

The humble pickup bed would seem like one of the last places you would look for cutting edge technology, after all, it’s just a box, right? At January 2018’s Detroit Auto Show, Chevrolet introduced the new 2019 Silverado pickup with a reconfigured bed that gave it a 20% cargo volume advantage over its competitors. In March, General Motors’ (GM’s) premium truck brand, GMC, launched its version of the Sierra with an optional carbon fiber cargo box.

Breaking the Mold

Carbon fiber has been used in many high performance vehicles for its combination of high strength and low weight, but its cost and manufacturing challenges have largely kept it out of mainstream vehicles. The highest volume applications to date for carbon fiber have been on the BMW i3 and i8 plug-in EVs. However, while BMW and its carbon supplier SGL have made advances in bringing down cost and improving reparability, they continue to use the same fundamental process that has always been used for making parts. That process lies down a woven carbon fiber matte in a mold infused with plastic resin and is then cured in a large autoclave to produce rigid thermoset components. This process has a cycle time of 45 minutes or more.

GMC and supplier Continental Structural Plastics are breaking the mold by using a sheet molding compound (SMC) process that replaces the glass fibers that have long been used with carbon fibers. Rather than a large woven matte that requires long, costly strands of fiber, SMC infuses the plastic resin with millions of short strands that are about 1-inch long. An SMC carbon fiber panel can be also be produced in about 1 minute and requires no autoclave curing. GMC showed a video of a carbon fiber pickup box being subjected to the sort of abuse a work truck goes through and it survived with no issue.

Thinking Outside of the Box—Environmental Impacts from SMCs

While it is great that GMC has a pickup box that saves 62 pounds over the steel equivalent and should be more durable, there are perhaps more important long-term implications of this new material technology. For instance, SMC could be incorporated into GM’s aggressive commitment to both zero emissions and automated vehicles. Automated vehicles are expected to be primarily utilized in mobility as a service (MaaS) applications, where vehicles will have much higher utilization and potentially shorter service life. Rather than scrapping MaaS vehicles every 3-4 years and expending energy to build replacements, a new vehicle architecture that utilizes carbon SMC structures with replaceable and upgradable components could prove to be far more efficient.

Navigant Research’s Mobility as a Service report projects 7.8 million automated MaaS vehicles could be deployed in 2026. If these vehicles can utilize a lower cost from a durable carbon fiber SMC structure, they could potentially remain in service for 2-3 decades with regular updates to propulsion, battery, sensing, and computing systems. When the SMCs eventually have outlived their usefulness, they can be ground up and remanufactured into something new.

Today’s trucks are test beds for new technology and the profits from their sales fund the development of tomorrow’s advanced vehicles.


Automated Driving at 2018 CES Is All About Business Models

— January 11, 2018

Ten years to the day after my very first ride in the automated Chevrolet Tahoe that won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, I was in Las Vegas yet again for the 2018 International CES. In the very same parking lot where I took my first driverless ride, I climbed into the backseat of a BMW 5 series sedan sporting the logos of Aptiv and Lyft for an automated round trip from the Las Vegas Convention Center to Caesar’s Palace. As has been the case for most of the past decade, automated driving is the main automotive topic at CES, but now it’s more about the business models than the core technology.

For the second year in a row, General Motors (GM), the company that started the automated driving land rush at CES, is not here even in an official capacity. Supplier Aptive and several of the automakers that did return to Vegas have turned their attention to how they are going to transform their business models in the coming years as we make the shift away from buying and driving our own vehicles. Aptiv is just one of several companies—along with Waymo, Ford, GM, and Jaguar Land Rover—that have partnerships with Lyft to deploy automated vehicles.

The Hunt for New Revenue Streams

However, ride-hailing isn’t going to be the only application for automated vehicles in the coming decade. Automakers are keenly aware of the reality that shared, automated mobility will likely mean that there will be far fewer vehicles in the coming decades. With reduced revenues from sales, they are looking to services to generate new revenue streams. Given that, automakers need to maximize the utilization of these vehicles because the number of people in need of rides is hardly consistent during the course of the day.

While many surveys have asked consumers if they want to buy automated vehicles in recent years, it’s really the wrong question. For the most part, consumers will be unlikely to have the opportunity to purchase these vehicles. Instead, they will be owned and operated by manufacturers and other providers and made available on-demand.

Platforms Evolve, Targeting New Applications

The architecture of the vehicle will change from the traditional cars and SUVs we know today to something more flexible that can accommodate everything from passengers to pizzas to packages. Toyota unveiled a concept at CES 2018 called the e-Palette specifically targeted at these multimodal applications. It will be built in three sizes to accommodate different use cases.

Along with the vehicle, Toyota announced the e-Palette alliance to leverage the company’s Mobility Services Platform. Initial partners include Amazon, Didi, Pizza Hut, Mazda, and Uber to work on developing the vehicle, applications, and verification activities.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett also announced several business model initiatives to accompany the bespoke automated vehicle the company is launching in 2021. With its partner Autonomic, Ford is developing a transportation operating system cloud platform that will be available to cities to provide a range of non-competitive services like payments, authentication, and coordination.

On top of that, Ford’s transportation as a service platform will handle the logistics and deployment optimization for partners that want to utilize Ford’s vehicles. A pilot of the system will be launched this year in a city yet to be named along with Dominos, Lyft, and Postmates.

The business of mobility is changing, and the industry is trying out a range of solutions in the hopes of making both itself and the cities it operates in sustainable.


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