The Fuse

California AV Testing Data Points to Synergies Between Autonomy and Electrification

by Skylar Drennen | March 21, 2018

Currently, less than one percent of all new passenger vehicle sales in the United States are electric vehicles (EVs), yet the commercialization of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology has the potential to accelerate the market share for EVs. Extensive testing is underway for AVs to achieve the maximum safety benefits by the time they reach commercial scale. And so far there has been a large prevalence of EVs in testing, highlighting early signs of synergy between the two technologies.

So far, there has been a large prevalence of EVs in autonomous vehicle testing, highlighting early signs of synergy between the two technologies.

A SAFE analysis based on California’s DMV data from 2017 shows that approximately 50 percent of AV companies permitted to test vehicles in the state are either using EVs or plan to electrify their AVs in the future. Not all companies provided data for which powertrains they are using. As of January, the California DMV had issued permits to 50 different companies to test (AVs) on public roads.

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Figure 1 above depicts the current composition of permitted companies in California. The various players within this space are now jockeying to form partnerships in order to gain a competitive edge as they seek to develop the new technology. This is particularly true for the many startups, which comprise more than half the permitted parties. Many of the startups have not yet publically articulated their vision for the future of automation or the type of vehicle they are testing; in this case, SAFE omitted their data from the overall count of powertrain composition.

Figure 2 below demonstrates that for 87 percent of models in California testing, companies have either announced or are conducting tests using a hybrid or an EV powertrain. For the 20 companies in which it was not possible to distinguish the powertrain type, it was common to see testing conducted in a vehicle that could either be a hybrid or an ICE. For instance, several companies are performing testing with a Lincoln MKZ but did not specify if it was a hybrid of an ICE model.

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The ratio of EVs to ICE vehicles in California is a clear departure from the mix of auto sales in the United States today. The divergence between the current market share for EVs and the ratio of EVs in AV testing suggests that many tech giants, car manufacturers, tier one suppliers, and tech startups are anticipating a future that is both electric and autonomous. Comprehensive policy support for both technologies should remain a priority to ensure that the future transportation system is increasingly efficient and diverse, dampening U.S. consumers’ vulnerability to oil price fluctuations.

The divergence between the current market share for EVs and the ratio of EVs in AV testing suggests that many tech giants, car manufacturers, tier one suppliers, and tech startups are anticipating a future that is both electric and autonomous.

A further breakdown of the data shows that startups have the strongest inclination for ICE vehicles, while OEMs and Tier One suppliers clearly prefer electrification.

At the same time, there is a sharp discrepancy between vehicle designers (companies testing AVs with the intent on selling them as a final product) and platform designers (firms geared toward selling a software or sensors as a product). California data shows that vehicle producers lean heavily toward EVs compared to platform designers. Approximately 95 percent of vehicle producers’ models (see graphic below) are testing or working toward a hybrid or electric vision, while one-third of platform designers are using an ICE. One possible explanation for the discrepancy is that platform designers want to utilize an ICE to collect data and test systems to avoid lengthy charge times and current range concerns.

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The connection between AVs and EVs is hardly inevitable. So far, the data is limited and testing is still in its early stages.

The connection between AVs and EVs is hardly inevitable. So far, the data is limited and testing is still in its early stages. But SAFE’s analysis shows that initial signs are encouraging, with a high percentage of OEMs and other companies intent on producing AVs plan to make them electric. The link between autonomy and electrification will be crucial: Self-driving cars have the potential to accelerate the transition from a transportation sector that relies on a highly volatile oil market that is subject to the whims of geopolitical unrest and cartel manipulation to a self-sufficient system powered by the American electricity grid. To that end, it is vital that national and state policy makers continue to support the maturation of both of these transformative technologies.

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