Will self-driving electric vehicles make car ownership vanish in New Zealand?

with Stuart Macadam

If you told someone 200 years ago something called a car would one day replace the horse and carriage, you would have been laughed out of town.

So, I always keep an open mind when big claims are made about the future. After all, Robert Zemeckis got quite a few things right with his Back to the Future films.

I, Robot also correctly predicted that artificial intelligence would become more influential in society.

So when American think tank RethinkX recently made a prediction about car ownership disappearing in the future, I was fascinated to find out more.

Put simply, they reckon within a decade, car ownership will vanish and will be replaced by self-driving electric vehicles.

The report also says…

-95 per cent of US passenger kilometres will be served by autonomous electric vehicles owned by companies providing Transportation as a Service (TaaS).

- 60 per cent of vehicles on the road will be dedicated to that transportation

- the average household will pocket US$5,600 (NZ$8166) a year currently allocated to gas-powered car ownership by switching to autonomous electric vehicles services.

For those of us who often commute home in rush hour traffic, these kinds of vehicles sound quite promising. You wouldn’t have to put up with bad drivers anymore for one.

Plus, your attention would be devoted to something more productive, like reading a book, watching a movie or preparing for a meeting.

Will self-driving electric vehicles make car ownership vanish in New Zealand? It’s possible but unlikely; at least in the foreseeable future.

Owning a car is convenient.

A lot of people also use their cars for business and family trips. You’re able to get around with minimal fuss and hassle.

Our public transport system lags Europe and the Americas and owning a car just makes it easier to go places and do things.

The reality too is that New Zealand has a very long way to go before it even has a chance of seeing this kind of technology. Our economy is very small and geographically we are quite isolated.

Unravelling this kind of technology through trial and error would be completely unpractical for any car company.

It will still be quite some time before New Zealand starts seeing self-driving electric vehicles on the roads.

There are also two other things to bear in mind here.

Electric vehicles have been around for a very long time.

Robert Davidson developed the first known model in 1837.

While automotive companies are making progress, many are still battling to produce electric cars which price up competitively against similar spec petrol and diesel cars.

Self-driving cars also raise a lot of questions. Are they safe? How do we know they are safe? What health and safety standards do they need to meet? What if they malfunction? Who is at fault if the car crashes?

While it would be cool to not worry about traffic in the morning commute, that remains a sci-fi dream… for the time being.


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