To no surprise, Elon Musk made tech and business headlines last week when Tesla unveiled an all electric semi-truck. As I read the headlines and articles coming out about the Tesla Semi, my inner-researcher naturally came out. We’ve (Zpryme) been tracking data on electric vehicles (EVs) in the U.S. for five years, and we have not seen much movement in overall consumer interest since 2013. If consumer demand is not moving, why do Elon Musk and many other major car manufacturers keep pushing the EV envelope? As I processed this information, one comment immediately came to mind:

“Single car ownership is going the way of the musket.” – Karl Popham

Karl Popham, Austin Energy’s Emerging Technologies and EV Manager made this comment on a panel at our Start@ets event held in Austin, Texas on October 25, 2017. I haven’t fired any type of firearm in over 20 years, but I do know that the modern rifles of today are light years ahead of the muskets used in the 19th century.

Image Credit: Historynet and Illustration by Gregory Proch

Elon Musk, Uber, Google, and many other technology companies know that EVs and autonomous vehicles (AVs) are a major part of our broader autonomous destiny. As Karl suggests, in the future, it will be increasingly uncommon for people to own a car. Even today, single cars are only in use 5% of the time. Once we take this into account, it’s not hard to see the benefits of EVs and AVs for the transportation, logistics, and ride-sharing industries:

  • Savings in driver costs (training, labor, insurance, etc.);
  • Savings from fuel costs;
  • Immediate positive PR from reducing green house gases by going all electric;
  • Shared electric AVs (eAVs) reduce the congestion on roadways;
  • Reduced energy savings by being able to use the batteries as a grid resource or to power facilities when the cars are not use.

Obviously, consumer interest will still play a major role as the transition to a fully autonomous society takes place over the next twenty to thirty years. As consumers start seeing more EVs on the road their overall adoption will increase. In addition, as electric infrastructure becomes more distributed, so will the benefits of EV ownership and bi-directional charging systems.

A few of the other consumer benefits of eAVs include:

  • Increased productivity as consumers will be able to work during their commute to work;
  • Reduced cost of living by eliminating debt and the monthly cost of a car payment;
  • Improved quality of life as cars shared eAVs will reduce the number of total cars on the road and reduce greenhouse emissions;
  • Reduce overall costs and time spent repairing their vechles and on insurance and parking costs.

EV and AV Data and Smart Transportation Framework

Before diving into AVs and EVs will transform transportation, work, energy, and our fundamental perception of wealth, ownership, and american culture, I wanted to share some key data and graphics that provide some context on EVs, AVs, and smart transportation.

Percent of U.S. Adults Likely to Purchase and Electric Vehicle, 2013-2017

Our five-year consumer survey data show that overall interest in EVs in the U.S. has actually fallen back to 2013 levels. Google search trend data over the same time period aligns with our data, but a strong interest in AVs has been on the rise since 2015.

Source: Zpryme U.S. EV Consumer Interest Survey, 2013-2017

Electric Vehicle and Autonomous Vehicle Search Trends 2013-2017, U.S

Source: Google Trends Data for U.S. for past five years.

U.S. Familiarity with Autonomous Vehicles as of June 2017

Our consumer survey data show that 64% of U.S. adult consumers have some familiarity with AVs. Given that this technology is in such an early stage, the awareness level signals that positive consumer experiences or media stories have the ability to influence adoption and acceptance of AVs, for better or worse.

Source: Zpryme U.S. Autonomous Vehicle Awareness Survey, June, 2017

Smart Transportation Components

The excerpt below from our Smart Transportation: Definitions and Market Outlook, 2015 report summarizes key building blocks of a future that thrives off mobility and autonomy.

Breaking down smart transportation further, and the movement of people within smart cities, we have three key areas to discuss and each is highlighted in the series of images below:

  • Vehicles | The automation of both motorized and non-motorized vehicles, the learning abilities of vehicles, and the vehicles’ connections with one another, people and other smart sensors. Of particular interest are vehicles that move around in open environments, such as buses, automobiles and bicycles.
  • Infrastructure | The sensors on roadways, sidewalks, traffic lights, EV charging infrastructure, parking spaces—anything that help supports the flow of transportation. This also includes backhaul communications and traffic management systems.
  • You | The movement of people within communities, and the technologies that can help them do so more efficiently and effectively, such as ridesharing apps, real-time transit data, and multi-modal apps.

Source: Zpryme Smart Transportation: Definitions and Market Outlook, 2015

Smart Transportation Components Today and Tomorrow

Source: Zpryme Smart Transportation: Definitions and Market Outlook, 2015

Smart Transportation and Network Framework

The shared destiny of AVs and EVs is perfectly captured in the illustration below. Further highlighted are technologies of today and tomorrow that will help cities, consumers, technology companies, and policy makers bring this framework to life.

Source: Zpryme Smart Transportation: Definitions and Market Outlook, 2015

Autonomous Destiny

Taking into account that we are trending towards an autonomous future from a transportation perspective, we must also think carefully how this could potentially impact our societal fabric. We (in the U.S.) were raised on the American Dream where everyone owns their own car and their own home. Today, stagnant wagessurging higher education costs, and factory automation are putting the American Dream out reach for the average American. In addition, the re-designing of the American Dream is being further driven by the rise of artificial intelligence, ride sharing, AVs, and social media.

As a starting point, I am outlining four key components of where an autonomous future will take us as:

  • Mobility and autonomy will be assets in the re-designed American Dream. Thanks to AI, robotics, and IoT, the speed of industry change will hit such an unprecedented pace that our understanding of how industry and markets evolve will also be redefined. New industries will both appear and die within years rather than decades;
  • Wealth or wealth building is going to be based upon factors related to our ability share, collect, protect, and monetize digital interactions (data) across our lifetime (rather than upon the value of our physical or financial assets);
  • The concept of “work” or “career” will be not be defined by duration, salary, experience, or degree, but more so by shared ideals and collaboration that create meaningful benefits to society;
  • The American Dream is going to mesh with the shared dreams of the global citizenry who share values, opportunities, and challenges that cut across culture and nationalistic boundaries.

An autonomous future will not be ideal or fair for everyone. However, by understanding the ride Elon Musk, Google, Uber, Lyft, and many others are taking us on, the more say we will have in what our final destination will look like.

To learn more about the digital connection between consumers and technology check out Zpryme’s ETS18 taking place March 26-29 in Austin, Texas.