Sudden Switch

Standford University economist Tony Seba, in his report Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030, made some pretty outlandish predictions about the future of personal transportation. Let’s examine the most significant predictions of his report.

All petrol/diesel cars will disappear by 2030

According to the World Health Organisation, the world’s roads played host to almost 1.8billion vehicles in 2015. The World Economic Forum believes that we can expect this number to double by 2040. Which leaves us asking the question “Where are we going to get all of these cars?”. By 2030, we would have had to manufacture around 138.5million cars per year just to replace the cars currently on our roads. That is about what we currently produce according to current data from Statista. If we immediately switched production to only electric cars, we could make Seba’s prediction come true. But even preparing a new production line can take months, let alone time spent in R&D to develop these electric models.

Based on the available data, 2030 is not a feasible date for electric vehicles to have total control of the world’s roads. We know that Volvo Cars has announced their intention to cease production of diesel-powered models in 2023, with development of new diesel-powered products halted in favour of pure electric vehicles. A bit late to the party, but at least the Swedish manufacturer has recognised this, and is now trying to make up for lost time.

Their first pure electric model is expected to reach the market in 2019, about right timing for a massive increase in EV sales thanks to total cost-of-ownership parity, which is due to happen next year. Subaru is likewise electrifying their entire range, with their first full EV on the market by 2021, and BMW is doing the same thing across their range as soon as 2020, following the somewhat massive slump in sales of their BMW i sub-brand.

What do all three of these companies have in common? Their electric vehicles are all at least three years away – so the world’s manufacturers would be playing catch-up to reach total domination of our roadways by 2030. More importantly, two of these brands are offering electrified versions of existing vehicles. They still plan to make internal combustion versions, although whether they will be in demand by that time we have yet to see.

[Edit] As some people have rightly pointed out, this paragraph does appear to misinterpret Seba’s statement. Page 34 of his report states that “97 million ICE vehicles will be left stranded in 2030, representing the surplus that will be in the vehicle stock as consumers move to TaaS. These vehicles may eventually become entirely unsellable as used IO vehicle supply soars and demand disappears…”. This is not saying that all ICE vehicles have disappeared completely, but that they will have disappeared from the roads.

Almost 80% of highways will be obsolete by 2030.

As shown above, the number of vehicles on the planet is not expected to go down over the next 13 years. In order to make highways obsolete, we must undertake drastic changes to the way we drive. Highways exist to accomodate large amounts of traffic and help it flow smoothly. The effectiveness of many highway systems is debatable at best, but the added capacity of a highway is easily observed. If highway systems become obsolete, while the number of cars increases, then traffic will need to be managed very differently to the way it is now.

Private car ownership will decrease by up to 80% by 2030.

Sadly, this isn’t completely unrealistic. With rampant unemployment, and soaring property prices, it is not unrealistic to see millions of people forced to surrender that degree of control over their lives to the increasingly small number of people who can still afford to own cars. I doubt, however, that this figure is going to decrease by up to 80%.

A car, to many, represents nothing less than freedom itself. Not being tied to hopelessly inefficient public transport schedules, being able to go exactly where you want when you want, these kinds of freedoms, are what people value in a car. It is hard to believe that 80% of the population will give all of this up. That being said, technology has been known to take people by surprise – the smartphone revolution of 2007 being a prime example. So we will see on this one.

All cars will be autonomous or semi-autonomous by 2030.

It is worth noting that in his presentation, Seba serves this course up alongside another prediction which goes hand-in-hand with this one; people will stop driving. Chew on that for a moment. Last time I checked, most people I know that currently drive actually like driving. This is backed up by a report from the University of Michigan titled Motorists’ Preferences for Different Levels of Automation: 2016which found that 95.2% of drivers who wanted a self-driving car still want manual controls to be a feature in the car.

Waymo Self-driving Car Prototype. Source: http://blog.americansafetycouncil.com

Don’t get me wrong; I believe most production cars by 2030 could well have the option of complete autonomy. I just don’t believe that every customer will use it. Regardless, self-driving technology is objectively awesome, and will make for some pretty awesome entrances into the high-school ball, as you and your date pull up in the car with no parent driving, and then the car drives itself away, bereft of any kind of human occupant. Just don’t use that one pictured above – people will probably just look at you funny if you turn up in that…

So what will happen?

Above, I covered the four largest issues that I can see with Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030. That said, the report is a fascinating read and draws a pretty good picture of what our future world may look like. You can find his report, and other great resources, on my all-new Resources page. Don’t forget to share this on Facebook, and sign up by email to recieve updates from Sustain Automotive. See you next time!


1 thought on “Sudden Switch”

  1. Well pleased Subaru are going electric I have been a Subaru fan for sometime.
    An electric motor is much simpler to produce than a combustion engine so if existing body parts are used; then for manufacturers to convert is straight forward.
    Except for batteries perhaps.
    New battery capacity with faster charge rates giving extend range of 50o+ kms are only a few years away from production.

    Liked by 1 person

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