RethinkX co-founder and Stanford University economist and professor Tony Seba opined: "The day that autonomous vehicles are approved, the combination of ride hailing, electric and autonomous means that it's going to be ten times cheaper, up to ten times cheaper, to use a robot taxi, transport as a service car, than it is to own a car. Ten times."
To begin with, the theory of supply and demand would suggest that $25 oil would result in fuel-inefficient vehicles being brought back into regular service. Every time gas prices have dropped, the sales of fuel-inefficient SUVs and pickups have risen.
Taking some of Seba's fantasies one-by-one:
- Car-sharing will be the norm. But if car-sharing is so universally loved, why isn't it common today? Most cars today contain only a single passengers for all sorts of reasons. Car pool lanes are not remotely jammed. The gig economy does not lend itself to car-sharing. And has Seba asked mothers, whether single moms, working moms, or stay-at-home moms, whether car-sharing will work for them?
- All new mass-market vehicles will be electric by 2030. Where is the infrastructure to support these vehicles? Many people live in apartments, so is Seba planning to coerce all state governments to pass legislation requiring every parking place to include a battery charger? And how will that work for the many apartments which do not have parking places? Not to mention that once someone allows his car to run out of gas, so to speak, a tow will be required.
- Up to 80% of highways will be redundant. Our roads can only handle so much traffic at one time. Even when self-driving cars have been perfected, they will only be able to carry four people to work at a time, unless they want to ride like sardines. Unless companies allow employees to choose their own work hours so the concept of rush hour disappears, there will still be surges in traffic in the morning and afternoon. And in the evenings, people will not all queue to visit bars and restaurants.
- All [new] vehicles will be autonomous ... The concept of individual car ownership will be obsolete. This is Seba's biggest laugh. He's obviously never bothered to noticed that there are many magazines devoted to driving, with Hot Rod, Car and Driver, and Road & Track being just a few. Many people enjoy driving. People who like to go four-wheeling are not going to choose a self-driver. Many people living in snow states like to own four-wheel drive vehicles for the occasional blizzard. Human-driven pickup trucks will be with us for the foreseeable future. His brave new world simply isn't going to work for the millions of people who live outside major cities, not to mention people who live on farms. If he thinks banning guns is difficult, just wait until he tries to ban human-driven vehicles.
Seba and his pals are out on a limb here, with IEEE and just about every other expert in disagreement. Moody's noted: "While self-driving cars will likely force auto insurers to rethink their business models, widespread adoption of this technology is decades away, allowing insurers plenty of time to adapt."
As for the possibility of traveling being ten times cheaper, just where does Seba think this vast fleet of self-driving vehicles will come from? If the supplier is Uber, then prices for rides will only increase given its "route based pricing." There is great resistance to Uber becoming a monopoly.
This issue will be a repeat of the 2016 presidential election, where there is a major disconnect between the cities and the rest of the country.
That said, autonomous vehicles will definitely make a difference. The pace of sales of new vehicles to private owners will slow. And most importantly, the current trend toward increased traffic fatalities, both pedestrian and passenger, will reverse because texting e-children will no longer be a major hazard on the road.