Google quickly learned over five years ago electric vehicles (EVs) were the powertrain of choice for its then fledging driverless car program and the industry has since followed its lead.
Now, every major carmaker has an EV program of some kind, while all-electric powertrains are expected to dominate driverless, at least in the long term.
This is why Volvo Cars' announcements this week make a lot of sense, as the Swedish carmaker plans to go "all-electric" by 2019. After stating its bold claim it will offer Level 4 driverless models by 2021, Volvo has begun to phase out all-combustion engine models and will launch five fully electric cars between 2019 and 2021.
And this is bad news for Tesla. While the push by mainstream carmakers to offer EVs is arguably good for the all-electric carmaker as non-combustion engine cars become mainstream, Volvo is now encroaching on Tesla's space as the leading carmaker in this premium space. BMW's all-electric i3 serves as a premium EV alternative, but following Volvo's announcements, you can expect Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and yes, even Porsche to chip away at Tesla's lead in all-electric driving performance and driverless features bundled together in a premium car.
Besides offering an emissions-free private transportation alternative, EVs are easier to control with digital signals compared to combustion engine cars. Artificial intelligence (AI) systems are also much more efficient and easier to design for EVs compared to applying AI to less digitally efficient fuel injection-controlled systems. Since EVs lend themselves to short trip distances for urban fleet services; EVs, for the most part, offer a better fit for driverless vehicles than combustion engine cars do. (Combustion engine vehicles will continue to play a role in driverless, but that is a subject for a later discussion.)
Waymo has since backtracked from its all-EV driverless plans after beginning tests of self-drive Chrysler Pacifica minivans and even commercial trucks. However, just a few weeks ago, General Motors (GM), ones of the world's largest carmakers, said it has the infrastructure in place for mass-volume production of driverless Bolt EVs.
Who's Winning in Driverless
Bloomberg News queried analysts about which firm is winning the driverless horse race. While Tesla, Waymo, Volvo Cars, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz are obvious contenders, it's just way too early to tell, they say.
In the Darwinian driverless race, today's killer app could be tomorrow's road kill.
Alphabet's Waymo has taken the lead in miles its driverless cars have driven, but the competition is heating up, as startups such as Ford-owned Argo AI and https://www.drive.ai are developing driverless fleet services that will compete directly with those Waymo is expected to offer. Tesla, as well as traditional carmakers, could also harbor surprises, as they develop fleet and mobility services.
Elsewhere in the News
Nissan says its new Leaf will debut the company's Propilot Park, which guides the car into a parallel, angled, front, or straight back-in parking spot. However, the driver must be available to apply the brakes if necessary, Nissan says. Hungary-base AImotive Ltd., which is developing Level 5 systems, becomes the 36th firm with authorization to test driverless cars in the state of California. Baidu says it is working with 50 more "partners" in its development of driverless cars, including Microsoft, Robert Bosch, and Continental AG. The Chinese firm says it will launch its first "fully autonomous" car next year.