Monday, September 28, 2015

How Cheap Can Autonomous Cars Get?

Autonomous cars are coming and everybody thinks they'll be a pretty big deal, but it's impossible to predict what their impact would be exactly. Today they are billed simultaneously as the saviour of our congested, car-dependent cities, and a job-killing, life-destroying tool of the global technocapitalist class.

To help us think about their impact, let's consider how cheap self driving cars could be. We'll use the simple metric of money per kilometre and make the following assumptions:

  • The year is 2039 and full Autonomous Cars (ACs) have been shipping for over a decade.
  • All new ACs are electric, with an efficiency of MPGe (5km/kWh).
  • The autonomous drive systems have been around for a while and are commoditized, like ABS or Traction Control systems are today. They add $ to a vehicle.
  • Electricity costs $/kWh
  • Our car costs $, comes with a km range, and the 100kWh battery pack has charge/discharge cycles.
  • Insurance costs $/year and maintenance is $/year. The life of the car is
  • The residual value after end of life is $

Given the above, our battery usable life is:

1000cycles * 500km = 500000km

The running costs of the car are:

5 years * ( + ) + 500000km / 5km/kWh * $5/kWh = $xxxx

So the total cost of this car is:

$xxxx + $ + $ - $ = $

Which gives us a total of:

$ * 100 / km = cents per kilometre.

Feel free to play around with the assumptions. After playing around a bit, we can see that the biggest impact, apart from the price of the car itself, comes from the quality of the battery - a larger battery with a longer life (recharge cycles) is more important than cheap electricity or a marginal improvement in efficiency (milage). This makes sense, as a car with 50 more recharge cycles will give you significantly more milage for the same buck.

Using the default assumptions, we get a price of 14 cents per km if you ride in this non-luxury, mid-size car 100,000km/year. Assuming this car is part of a taxi service and we add some profit, we can expect to pay $2 for 10km, which is quite significant as it is even cheaper than most public transit systems today.

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