Report: 95% of US Car Miles Will Be Electric, Autonomous by 2030

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CC BY 2.0. Don DeBold

As I mentioned in my post about beer made from recycled bread, I've been reading Paul Hawken's Drawdown. Among the proposed climate solutions in the book, some have seemed ambitious in scale—perhaps even fanciful. But I was struck by the fact that Drawdown is predicting only 16% of global passenger miles will be in electric vehicles by 2050.

Others have different ideas.

Tony Seba, for example, has previously predicted that all new road vehicles, globally, will be 100% electric by 2030. And he's building on that prediction with a new report, co-authored by James Arbib, entitled Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030: The Disruption of Transportation and the Collapse of the ICE Vehicle and Oil Industries.

Among the bold predictions being made this time around:

—95 percent of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand Autonomous Electric Vehicles (A-EVs) owned by companies providing Transport as a Service (TaaS).
—A-EVs engaged in TaaS will make up 60 percent of U.S vehicle stock.
—As fewer cars travel more miles, the number of passenger vehicles on American roads will drop from 247 million in 2020 to 44 million in 2030.
—Global oil demand will peak at 100 million barrels per day by 2020, dropping to 70 million barrels per day by 2030.

Now, it's been said many times before that predictions are a fools game. After all, few of us were predicting the sudden collapse of the coal industry just a decade ago. But Seba's past predictions on the falling costs of batteries, solar and autonomous vehicle tech have been surprisingly accurate—even slightly conservative. So could Seba and Arbib's vision really come true?

Now, I've yet to be able to download the report (technical difficulties), so I am working from press release materials. But the key premise appears to be that most conventional predictions for electric vehicle adoption fail to fully factor in the confluence of electric vehicles, autonomous driving technology, and new alternatives to car ownership. When it's cheaper, easier, greener and more fun to hail an autonomous vehicle to get you to your destination, why would you still pay for a giant hulk of metal to sit in your driveway and eat away at your savings?

In fact, Seba and Arbib claim that using autonomous, electric vehicles operating under a Transportation as a Service model (think Uber without a driver) will be four to 10 times cheaper per mile than buying a new car, and two to four times cheaper than operating an existing paid-off vehicle, by 2021. That's a pretty compelling difference.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether our strong cultural and psychological ties to car ownership prove an impediment to such new ways of thinking about mobility. Currently, we seem to be bombarded with conflicting headlines ranging from the arrival of "Peak Car" to pickup trucks and SUVs taking over the world. But from anecdotal polling of friends and acquaintances, it does feel like there is a growing hunger for electrified transportation, and a growing openness to transit, ridesharing and other ways of getting about.

2030 isn't that far off. But it may look very, very different to the world we know today. Let's just hope that we use the coming disruption to rebuild our communities around people—not the (autonomous or not) boxes they ride in.