California could be the first state to give self-driving cars a deadline for electrification.
In mid-February, a bill was tacitly incorporated into the legislation of the US state of California, according to which all autonomous vehicles must also be emission-free by 2025. Proposed Bill SB 500, introduced by Senator Dave Min and sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), would directly impact the emerging AV industry in applications such as hail, delivery and trucking.
The change is in line with many of California’s emissions reduction goals. It would complement the vehicle code of the state that currently has programs to promote zero-emission vehicles, such as the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project and the Charge Ahead California Initiative.
Governor Gavin Newsom said he wanted all new car sales to be emission-free by 2035, but that doesn’t apply to commercial fleets. Not if this bill is not passed. The proposed bill is still in its infancy, so there are many ways to repeal it. However, this is a problem for an emerging AV industry and the companies trying to develop and commercialize autonomous driving technologies in California. It also has the potential to give a boost to companies that only use electric vehicles.
“California has set important standards to aggressively address our climate crisis,” Min told .. “My SB 500 is in line with these ambitions and is taking a crucial first step in demanding that autonomous vehicles be emission-free before they are used on a large scale.”
Proponents of the bill do not want to see future modes of transport associated with past technology, pointing out that AV equipment can either aid or interfere with attempts to reduce emissions. California has a reputation for leading the rest of the country in adopting electric vehicles and other emissions-related policies. The success or failure of this law could therefore create ripple effects in states across the country.
“It definitely looks like we’re going to see AVs in these fleet applications, whether it’s hail drives or deliveries, and that makes it even more important that these vehicles are electric,” said Elizabeth Irvin, senior transportation analyst at UCS. “The average person drives their car 11,000 to 13,000 miles a year, but a full-time Uber or Lyft driver drives 30,000 or more.”
Almost half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. And while there’s nothing quite like a smoggy Los Angeles sunset, proponents could say that the risk of not making demands on the AV industry could lead to a world where autonomous trucks are commonplace and run on fossil fuels become.
In a statement defending support for this bill, UCS referred to research showing how AVs can dramatically increase driving, and therefore emissions, as people get used to the luxurious life of a passenger. A study examining the potential impact of AVs on the Washington DC metropolitan area’s transportation system in 2040 found that AVs would cause the total number of trips to increase by up to 66% compared to the base year 2040.
Irvin told . that UCS has been holding discussions with various stakeholders – such as Nuro, the autonomous delivery startup backed by SoftBank, and Cruise, the self-driving subsidiary of General Motor – about strategies to evolve the policy in which all AV equipment is emission-free would have to be in California before mainstream adoption.
“We support efforts to accelerate the industry’s transition to clean energy, which is in line with Nuro’s goals and values,” said a Nuro spokesman. “We are excited that autonomous vehicles are paving the way for the rest of the auto industry that we believe will lead to a greener and healthier future.”
The feel is echoed in Cruise, which last year unveiled a driverless vehicle called Origin, designed to share and power an all-electric platform built by GM. This is the result of a long partnership with Honda. Cruise is not yet testing Origin autonomous vehicles in San Francisco. The battery platform is currently still being tested at GM’s test site. Cruise seeks to bring a fleet of autonomous vehicles – initially with the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt – to market as part of a hail and possibly delivery service in San Francisco.
“Because this industry is so new, everyone has a choice of whether or not to be an electric vehicle,” said Rob Grant. SVP government affairs at Cruise, said .. “It’s not like you have to convert an existing fleet. You have a choice in the beginning to do so instead of going down this path and being forced to change it at a later date. “
Hybrids versus electric
Not all AVs use electric vehicles. The Ford Fusion Hybrid and Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid minivans have been top choices for AV developers, including Argo AI, Aurora, Waymo, and Voyage.
Argo AI is a technology platform company that works with major automakers such as Volkswagen and Ford to develop autonomous driving systems. While Volkswagen’s ID.Buzz will be the company’s first fully electric self-driving car, Ford still prefers to take a more moderate approach by modifying the hybrid Ford Fusion.
“We all want to move to BEVs at some point, but we also need to find the right balance to develop a profitable and viable business model,” said John Davis, chief engineer at Ford Autonomous Vehicles. “This means starting with hybrids first.”
Davis outlined several challenges in developing all-electric vehicles as AVs, including reducing range from on-board technology, reduced vehicle use during charging times, and battery degradation.
“Tests have shown that more than 50% of the BEV’s range is consumed due to the processing power of an AV system and the air conditioning and entertainment systems likely to be required during hailstorms (for passenger comfort),” said Davis. “We continue to be encouraged as battery chemistry and costs continue to improve to address these issues.”
Waymo, which has tested and subsequently launched a robotaxi service in a limited and growing area in the suburbs of Phoenix, intends to bring a commercial service to California. The Mountain View, California-based company regularly tests its vehicles, including the electric Jaguar I-Pace, in and around San Francisco. The company said it supported Newsom’s most recent executive order but no longer endorsed the current language in Min’s bill.
“As the first to commercialize our fully autonomous technology to the public, we strongly support the goals set out in Governor Newsom’s recent Executive Order N-79-20, which takes a holistic approach to California’s transition toward one 100% EV future pursued. ” Waymo spokesman told .. “Waymo has businesses and partnerships that span hail shipping, trucking and local delivery. We want to make sure the California EV policy reflects the myriad of issues and industries that are affected. It’s early in the legislative process and we look forward to working with Sen. Min in his endeavors. “
Industry insiders familiar with the bill have noted that the current language, which is fairly short, is just a wildcard and is unlikely to make much progress in this session. The same sources have criticized the sponsors and authors for failing to establish a charging infrastructure plan or to differentiate between light and heavy commercial vehicles. Trucks carrying cargo are expected to be among the first vehicles with widespread autonomous use. Most of the self-driving truck development outside of California takes place in states like Arizona and Texas. While some effort is being made to develop electric and autonomous tractor units, most of the testing today involves diesel powered vehicles. This could lead companies wishing to station in California to rely on the Senator’s office to include a heavy-duty vehicle exemption.
“We’re still trying to fill in details as we go through the legislative process, but UCS intends that this bill will continue to focus on electrification requirements,” Irvin replied.