Driverless Cars

Disruption to the energy and transportation industries from self-driving cars will come sooner rather than later, a new study says.

Your gas-guzzling SUV is going to be obsolete within the next decade or so, driven by the introduction of self-driving vehicles that will drive costs of alternative transportation as a service far below what it costs you to own and maintain a vehicle, says Tony Seba, the futurist author and lecturer.

That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to fuel your gas guzzler. It just means it won’t make sense to financially, Seba says, compared to the cost of taking an Uber ride that very well could be in a self-driving car, or having your new flat panel TV delivered to you via mobile app on your smartphone.

“It’s hard to believe the change is coming, and it’s coming so quickly,” says Seba, who headlined the group of speakers at this spring’s Near Southside, Inc. annual dinner in Fort Worth. Its topic: the disruption to energy, transportation, and other industries that will be wrought by self-driving cars once they’re approved by regulators.

This spring, Seba, who lives in San Francisco and lectures on entrepreneurship, disruption, and clean energy at Stanford University, co-authored a report called “Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030: The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the Internal-Combustion Vehicle and Oil Industries.” Its findings:

2030: By this year, “within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles, 95 percent of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets.” The new transportation-as-a-service model “will cause oil demand and prices to plummet, but also create trillions of dollars in new business opportunities, consumer surplus and GDP growth.”

Savings: The average U.S. family will save more than $5,600 per year in transportation costs. “This will keep an additional $1 trillion per year in Americans’ pockets by 2030.”

Competition: The approval of autonomous vehicles will “unleash a highly competitive market-share grab among existing and new” transportation-as-a-service providers “in expectation of the outsized rewards of trillions of dollars of market opportunities and network effects. Existing providers like Uber, Lyft and Didi are already engaged, and others will join this high-speed race. Winners-take-all dynamics will force them to make large upfront investments to provide the highest possible level of service, ensuring supply matches demand in each geographic market they enter.”

Margins: “In this intensely competitive environment, businesses will offer services at a price trending toward cost. As a result, their fleets will quickly transition from human-driven, internal combustion engine vehicles to autonomous electric vehicles because of key cost factors, including 10 times higher vehicle-utilization rates, 500,000-mile vehicle lifetimes (potentially improving to 1 million miles by 2030), and far lower maintenance, energy, finance and insurance costs.” Transportation-as-a-service will be “four to 10 times cheaper per mile than buying a new car and two to four times cheaper than operating an existing vehicle in 2021.”

Adoption: Will start in cities and radiate out to rural areas.

Internal combustion vehicles: By 2030, “will still represent 40 percent of the vehicles in the U.S. vehicle fleet, but they will provide just 5 percent of passenger miles.”

Barriers: Love of driving, fear of new technology or habit. But existing companies like Uber, Lyft and Didi have “invested billions of dollars developing technologies and services to overcome these issues.”

Cars on the road: Will drop to 44 million from 247 million eventually. “Seventy percent fewer passenger cars and trucks will be manufactured each year.”

Oil demand: Will peak at 100 million barrels per day by 2020, dropping to 70 million by 2030.