The outlook for autonomous and electric commercial vehicles
Autonomous and electric technology has been dominating headlines in the automotive industry for the past few years. And rightfully so. These advancements have already started to disrupt how people and goods move throughout the world.
Ryder is the transportation and supply chain partner to thousands of businesses across the United States and beyond, and is focused on the impact of these technologies, particularly on how people and businesses move and receive goods every day. We proactively test and implement emerging vehicle technologies so that we can advise businesses on best practices for adoption as the vehicle landscape changes. Ryder is continually monitoring emerging fleet technologies and works closely with the technology providers and equipment manufacturers building innovative features to provide feedback around functionality, usability, and adaptability.
What we’ve learned from playing this role is that these advanced technologies must be embraced and considered alongside existing technologies, and that the next few years will be dominated by further innovation and industry disruption. Here are a few areas to watch in the electrification and autonomous technology commercial vehicle space in the years to come.
Commercial electric vehicles need infrastructure and will complement internal combustion engines
The electric motor has been around for over 100 years propelling trains, large ships, and oil tankers in a manner that is extremely efficient, low maintenance, and reliable. Luckily, progression of battery technology over the last 10 years has empowered businesses to develop advanced fully electric cars and trucks. It’s now only a matter of time before we reach an inflection point when electric vehicles will be cheaper than petroleum vehicles. If the cost of lithium-ion batteries continues to fall, some models will cost the same as combustion engines as soon as 2024 and become cheaper the following year, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
While we move toward that point, we must consider the challenges of widespread adoption of electric vehicles: infrastructure and grid capabilities. The process of building the infrastructure and scaling to support the influx of electric vehicles is expensive and complex. From a capacity and cost standpoint, simply pulling energy from the grid will not be enough to support such rapid growth.
A key component of scaling will be further development and implementation of stationary battery storage to smooth the demand on the grid. Infrastructure companies such as eMotorWerks and ChargePoint are incorporating solar and stationary battery storage systems into their solutions to help businesses scale without having to rely solely on the grid.
Commercial fleets are taking the lead on resolving the scaling equation, consulting multiple infrastructure players early and moving forward with test facilities that they can eventually use as the models for future facilities.
One thing is incredibly clear: in the commercial vehicle space, electric and internal combustion vehicles complement one another. Internal combustion vehicles operate optimally on the highway where they get their best fuel economy. It’s the exact opposite for electric vehicles. In urban, metropolitan environments, in stop-and-go routes, electric vehicles thrive through brake regeneration and lower idling inefficiencies. Most successful fleets will operate both because of their complementary nature, with exceptions being the last mile industry, which predominantly operates in a stop-and-go environment.
Observations on the autonomous commercial vehicle landscape
Electrification will precede autonomous technology adoption and foreshadow both the challenges and opportunities ahead in terms of development, regulation, and adoption.
The next five to 10 years will be instrumental to the sector in the development of autonomous technologies for commercial vehicles. As is the case with passenger vehicles, autonomy in the commercial space is moving slower than electric. In the current landscape, a large number of relatively small commercial autonomous vehicle technology companies are focusing in on very specific niches.
There are companies pursuing perfect autonomous technology for highway driving or combining with drone operators, while others are focusing on the best technology for managing last-mile routes or food delivery. Many startups don’t have resources to develop on a broader scale, and are turning to industry partners, such as Ryder, to pilot new technologies but also to help with maintenance infrastructure and building business models required to gain access to more capital or a captive customer base.
It’s an exciting time to be involved with innovation related to autonomous and electric vehicles. With Ryder’s broad network and over 85 years of navigating industry change in transportation and supply chain, we are always open to new ideas and partners that will keep moving the industry forward.