Five years ago Domino’s announced it was testing driverless delivery of pizzas. Executives had come down with a case of autonomous vehicle fever and decided that was the future of home delivery. I wrote an article about it pointing out the fatal flaws in their testing methods. This week Domino’s announced they are now on the electric vehicle bandwagon. They are buying a fleet of electric pizza delivery cars with no mention of how they’ve given up on the idea of autonomous vehicles. This is now their third go-around with new-idea delivery vehicles. In 2015, they introduced what they called the ultimate delivery vehicle, a Chevrolet Spark, which was actually a Daewoo with an internal combustion engine. Designated the DXP, it was equipped with a warming oven behind a specially designed pizza hatch. Oddly, none of the 800 Chevrolet Bolts Domino’s is buying have any special hatches or warming ovens, so your pizza will still have a chance to cool off before it gets there. It doesn’t look like the DXP was the ultimate delivery vehicle after all, was it?
Why is it taking so long for driverless cars to take over?
For twenty years, auto manufacturers, fleet managers and on-demand car services have been claiming we’d have zillions of robo-cars on the road any day now, but most of us have still never seen one. The biggest reason is that the magnitude of the task of coordinating billions of trips involving millions of robot cars is staggering. The math you don’t hear about says the number of routes a regulatory agency will need to monitor, manage and coordinate is 100 million times larger than what air traffic controllers deal with now.
Nowadays experts are making new predictions
- The transition will take many years. Most who study these things tell us half of all vehicles on the road in the USA are at least 12 years old. Takeaway: If they stop building and selling drivable vehicles tomorrow, it will be a long time before robo-cars outnumber vehicles driven by humans.
- Fuel: Robots need to stop to refuel. Cars driving around the clock will need several refueling episodes each day. Refueling with gasoline takes only a few minutes while recharging electric vehicles takes hours. Takeaway: To optimize ROI, financial backers will stick with gasoline-powered fleets until the accountants say so.
- Charging stations. Cars at recharging stations sit there for hours. Takeaway: Battery charging stations will need more land than gas stations for all the plugged-in cars sitting around while you’re waiting.
- Robotic vehicles will wear out lots faster. Robots don’t eat, sleep or use the toilet. That means they’ll operate 365/24/7, which means racking up lots of miles. Takeaway: Robo-cars will need frequent replacement.
- More internal combustion vehicles are lasting longer. A study by iSeeCars.com was published by ABC, CBS, NBC and others. It surveyed people who bought new vehicles and were still driving them 15 years later, many for 200,000 miles or more. Six of their Top 10 most-kept vehicles are SUVs, two are pickup trucks and two are passenger cars. None of them is American – 2 are Hondas and 8 are Toyotas. Takeaways: The Japanese are farther ahead in building cars that last. Vehicles built on heavier and stronger truck platforms outlast passenger cars.
- Smaller cars. When you see statistics that show three out of four of today’s vehicle trips include only one passenger, it’s easy to predict there will be lots more mini cars than there are now. Takeaway: Larger vehicles that hold more passengers will likely be used for longer trips.
- They won’t look like your car. With no steering wheel or gauges, interiors will look different. So will doors. Takeaway: Vehicles made to only run at slow speeds around town won’t need to be so aerodynamic and will likely be small boxes.
- One autonomous car will replace 30 traditional cars. Celebrity futurist Thomas Frey’s calculations seem too precise for hypothetical numbers. Takeaway: I’d bet against this for three reasons. One is that futurists favor extravagant claims and why not? Most predictions don’t come true, but few people remember those. The other two reasons are the inevitable unintended consequences and the all-time champion alibi, “We never thought of that.”
Toyota is not going all-in on electric
We see and hear auto manufacturers hopping on the electric bandwagon, making showy pronouncements and wild promises, predictions and commitments. You may have noticed that Toyota is not following the trend because it believes electric vehicles are overhyped. Takeaway: Toyota will benefit from American manufacturers’ irrational rush to all-electric fleets by continuing to build and sell gas-powered cars to people for whom electric is not a choice.
El Futuro prediction
Electric cars will evolve to have no batteries. Actually, the infrastructure will evolve. Think of trolley cars powered by overhead wires, subways powered by electrified third rails and scale-model slot cars drawing their power from the track itself. Zap cars weigh thousands of pounds less because they need only motors, not heavy batteries. Overhead wires, slots in the road and third rails are impractical, but ever since someone figured out how to charge your smartphone without having to plug it in, the sky’s the limit on providing power sources beneath the pavement.
Claims to how far your electric vehicle will go on a single charge are assumed by most to be pie-in-the-sky numbers
The gas mileage numbers on the window sticker of your car are exaggerated overclaims and so are the range claims for electric cars. Any time you turn on something that draws power from your battery, you are reducing your range. You won’t go as far at night when your car’s lights are on, you’re listening to the radio and you’ve got the heater going full blast.
When you run out of gas, you fill a container at the gas station, take the fuel back to your car, pour it in the tank, start it up and drive away. When your electric car’s battery dies, what do you do?
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