Future of Transport: Electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles

Publication | November 2017
Future of Transport: Electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles

Norton Rose Fulbright hosted two events this Autumn looking at two core themes for the future of transport – electric vehicles (EVs) and autonomous vehicles (AVs).

Future of Transport - Round table breakfast - timetable for the introduction of autonomous vehicles

Our round table breakfast brought together industry representatives from investment, financing, technology, infrastructure, academia and energy sectors to discuss the timeline for the introduction of autonomous vehicles.

There were varying views on how fast we will see truly autonomous vehicles on our roads as par for the course, but a general acknowledgment that technology developments are moving much more quickly than generally anticipated.

What is certain is that the evolution of autonomous vehicles from the cutting edge stuff of science fiction to the mundane reality of everyday life will throw up an array of new issues for regulators, policy makers, financiers, insurers and manufacturers.

The discussion focused on the 3 questions below:

When does it become convenient not to own a car?

The opening question was “When will it be convenient not to own a car?”, acknowledging the crucial point that any shift towards an autonomous future must bear in mind convenience for consumers. This was a tricky question to answer, but a common theme was the need for cultural acceptance of a shift towards a shared economy licensing business model. AVs would reduce the need for car ownership, with cars used much more on an on-demand hire basis through the likes of Zipcar and other shared providers.

It was suggested that this shift in focus is likely to be much more easily accepted by young, child-free city-dwellers who may be more attuned to - and better served by - demand-based service providers. The discussion also recognised that families or regular car-users who like the comfort of having their own car, full of the clutter of everyday life, on a constantly available basis without having to risk service availability, may be more resistant to an asset-lite lifestyle. A similar position may be taken by those who view their cars as status symbols. It was generally acknowledged however that a shift towards AVs will come in stages – with cities likely to see the benefits sooner than those living in more remote areas with likely lower service coverage.

Cost of AVs and the knock-on effect on hire services was also a clear consideration for a move away from car ownership models, as well as the obvious need for proven, tested and safe technology and rigorous regulation around artificial intelligence and liability.

A reduced need for parking was mentioned as another convenience benefit of AVs. With some estimates suggesting that non-autonomous cars are parked 95 per cent of the time, a huge number of car parks and parking spaces would no longer be required and can be converted to other uses once AVs become more prevalent. Car users would also benefit from more controlled journey times and less time wasted in looking for a parking spot.

Which technology will prevail?

Electric power was recognised as the likely leader, coupled with a focus on improvements and innovation in battery storage technology to improve durability and cost and reduce range anxiety.

Hydrogen was also discussed as a viable alternative, particularly given its advantage in reduced refuelling time and improved range, and as a mitigant in the fuel mix to help allay concerns about how much additional demand the grid can take. Participants noted that hydrogen fuel costs are coming down and investment in the technology is increasing.

Business partnerships were recognised as crucial to the success of commercial acceptance of AVs. We are seeing partnerships between the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Volvo and Fiat Chrysler on the one hand, and Intel, Mobileye, Baidu, Lyft, Uber and Google on the other. Manufacturers (and tech giants such as Google) need to partner with financiers, technology and communications providers, ride-sharing and ride-hailing service providers and energy suppliers and even potentially insurance providers in order to provide a full-integrated solution. Regulators will also need to be nimble and work with business to facilitate a safe rapid deployment of AVs.

This led to a discussion on different financing models – with a focus on financing fleets and concurrent issues of damage liability, depreciation over a useful asset life of 10 – 15 years, and turnover, particularly considering the fast pace of technology development and obsolescence in this industry.

What will individual transport look like in 2027?

Participants envisaged a predominantly electric vehicle-driven world 10 years from now, with charging infrastructure much more widespread - at service stations, on motorways, at the supermarkets and all parking areas. Level 4 autonomy was thought to have become very common by 2027, with an insurance industry representative suggesting 2 years from now as an underestimate, but 10 years as an overestimate. An energy representative predicted that we would see exponential growth in electric vehicles, AVs and shared business models, partly driven by falling costs and better asset utilisation.

In order for AVs to rule the road in 2027, participants highlighted the need for faster charging infrastructure, better battery durability, greater acceptance of sharing business models, safe yet savvy regulation around artificial intelligence, communication and data protection - and a need to be bold and embrace new innovations and partnerships.

One key consideration noted in the discussion for the expansion of the AV industry is how it will interact with a broader focus on sustainable cities. Cities around the world are looking at inter-modal transport networks, cycling and walking for wellbeing, and cheaper, cleaner, faster and more convenient public transport. Singapore was highlighted as a great example of a sustainable city for the future – with lamppost charging stations, autonomous drone delivery at universities, and autonomous rubbish trucks and buses already in play.

The discussion concluded with an acknowledgement that whatever the pace of change, it will be an interesting ride to see how cities, transport, manufacturers, service providers and users will evolve and rise to meet the challenges and opportunities inherent in the AV industry over the next 10 years.

Future of Transport – Top Gear – How fast can the UK and its cities transition to electric vehicles?

We also co-hosted a panel debate with the Aldersgate Group on 9 October to explore how the UK can best support the uptake of electric vehicles and cleaner forms of transport. Some of the points raised echoed those discussed at our AV round table.

The speakers were:

  • Caroline May, Partner and Head of Safety and Environment, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP
  • Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of London, Energy and Environment
  • Richard Gordon, Commercial Director, London Electric Vehicle Company
  • Ian Cameron, Head of Innovation, UK Power Networks
  • Jonathan Hampson, General Manager, Zipcar

The panellists highlighted the disruption but also the economic opportunities which will arise from a low carbon revolution in the transport sector. They also emphasized that fast and effective update of electric and autonomous vehicles will require consistency, collaboration and inter-operability.

Caroline May, Partner and Head of Safety and Environment, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP opened the discussion with an acknowledgment of the broader context of low carbon transport having a key role to play in the UK meeting its Paris climate change targets. She highlighted a raft of policies for London and more widely across the UK which are helping to stimulate a cleaner transport future – including the Green Growth Strategy, the Clean Air Strategy, the Industrial Strategy, the draft London Transport Strategy and the Environment Strategy.

The question was posed as to what more the government can do to help drive a low carbon future further forwards. Panellists recommended further incentives to encourage the uptake of cleaner electric vehicles (such as tax breaks, scrappage schemes and subsidised purchase prices), bringing forward the Electric Vehicle bill introduction date, encouraging a clearer infrastructure pipeline, increased support for storage, and greater procurement and deployment of rapid charging infrastructure.

Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of London, Energy and Environment, set the stage for the debate, emphasizing the importance of EVs to reducing pollution, congestion, and noise, to improving public health, to boosting local business and to long term investment.

Shirley noted the relevance of the event, timed well with recent consultations on the Mayor's draft Transport and Environment Strategies for London which emphasise urgency in tackling air pollution in London. This is demonstrated by the Mayor's target to transform London into a zero carbon city by 2050, with zero emission zones by 2025.

She also highlighted London’s policies to phase out diesel double decker buses from 2018, and diesel single decker buses from 2020, and the introduction of a zero emission taxi policy from 2018. She noted a paradigm shift in the London market, with London having twice the electric vehicle sales as the rest of country.

To meet the zero targets, Shirley argued that "this is going to mean some tough decisions, but it will be good for our economy, boost local businesses and attract long-term investment. Importantly, the industrial opportunity we hope to create depends on a strong partnership with industry and government." She called on central government to provide the policy framework and initial investment needed to incentivise the decarbonisation of transport and highlighted three key asks:

  • Support EV infrastructure through incentives for developers and others to encourage uptake and create a viable market for further investment and growth;
  • Provide support for further R&D in battery storage as a means of balancing fluctuating energy demands and work to roll out rapid charging infrastructure across cities;
  • Develop an approach to urban transport that helps people out of their cars and supports walking and cycling as alternative forms of transport.

Shirley noted that there is a "huge appetite from all sectors to get stuck into this issue" and that London needs to take a comprehensive and holistic approach to the transition to EVs and low carbon transport.

Richard Gordon, Commercial Director at the London EV Company, emphasised charge anxiety which is now taking over from range anxiety as one of the most important barriers to the broader uptake of EVs. He called on the government to develop a strategy for the widespread roll out of rapid charging infrastructure.

Richard also highlighted the differences between the upfront and whole life cost of EVs, arguing that whilst on a long term basis EVs will offer a big reduction in operating costs, consumers are only willing to pay more for these vehicles upfront if accompanied by accessibility of charging points.

Richard called on government to therefore commit to a minimum of 300,000 rapid charge points in London by the end of 2020 to offer more upfront security to consumers. He noted that one of the key aspects of transport is accessibility, a service that taxi cabs provide, and that accessibility must be an integral part of a strategy for developing EV infrastructure. Furthermore, Richard argued it was crucial for national government to ensure interoperability of policies and new infrastructure as well as transparent pricing to create a regulatory environment where all sectors realise benefits.

The London EV company is the new name of the London Taxi Company. Putting their money where their mouth is, the company has a target that 90 per cent of all taxis sold by 2020 will be new energy vehicles.

Ian Cameron, Head of Innovation at one of the UK’s 13 licensed power networks, UK Power Networks (UKPN),stressed the importance of managing peak demand and called for increased data sharing to help combat issues associated with fluctuating electricity supply and demand. By 2030 UKPN expect to have 1.2 – 1.9 million EVs on their network.  This will require the removal of regulatory barriers, in order to have a focus on data and data management.

Ian argued the UK government must take action in three areas to prepare for the uptake of EVs:

  • Aim not to be a blocker and work with others to develop systems that can manage fluctuating electricity demand;
  • Commit to infrastructure reinforcement that supports the surge in EVs;
  • Facilitate better communication between sectors to share ideas that push innovation, capability, and uptake.

Ian discussed the crucial role of UKPN in managing the uncertainty over the timing and extent of the uptake of EVs. A large focus of UKPN is concerned with the speed of uptake and where this will occur. Where a network operator's current focus is on a mostly fixed asset, EVs are unpredictable energy consumers and ones that move around, can charge in different places, and at different times in the day and night. Ian emphasised the role of strategic investment in this debate and where and how to develop infrastructure ahead of demand without risking the creation of stranded assets if transport becomes more of a service than an asset.

Ian argued that to meet these challenges, the UK needs policy that facilitates data sharing. This data can better assist network operators to see what is ahead, and to prepare for trends in energy demand. Furthermore, Ian called on government to support innovation funding as this is crucial to create a market to drive thinking and policy.

Jonathan Hampson, General Manager of Zipcar, argued that the debate on the uptake of greener forms of transport must talk about fewer cars, not just greener cars. Jonathan noted that the challenges we face are chronic and often interwoven and so the solutions must be bold and interconnected.

Jonathan recognised the inherent contradiction in the uptake of individually owned EVs for a low carbon future. He described car ownership in cities as "a broken, inefficient model that must be reset," and argued that the transition to car sharing is a modern way to meet car owners’ needs at a fraction of the cost and with an opportunity that is five-fold:

  1. Achieving efficiency of space: in overpopulated cities, we cannot afford to waste space on cars that sit idle 95 per cent of the time;
  2. Health benefits: ownership of a car is directly related to time spent (or not spent) walking;
  3. Positive catalyst for a wider acceptance of green modes of transport: the appearance of Zipcars in cities offer positive advocacy for this form of transport;
  4. Car sharing as a key part of EV infrastructure: car sharing can provide the early guarantee of infrastructure usage that other stakeholders need to invest;
  5. Service that meets a need: a greater number of car drivers are asking for greener forms of transport.

Jonathan stressed the need for a clear vision that both public and private sectors, and importantly investors, can support. He noted that EV technology is still a nascent industry and that a successful uptake depends on collaboration with mutual benefit. He raised the point that 87 per cent of companies in a recent survey indicated that they wanted EVs in their fleet, but were not prepared to pay more for them. He therefore called on government to set the framework for this positive collaboration with tenders where both public and private sectors can benefit. Echoing one of the main themes of our AV roundtable discussion, he saw partnerships as the key for success and highlighted the example of Zipcar partnering with Volkswagen and Westminster Council to provide a shared fleet of 50 hybrid vehicles.

Questions and comments from the audience included:

  • The need for a long term vision but also to act now and make better use of examples to encourage more investment and innovation.
  • The need to ensure better interoperability and consistency of charging infrastructure to improve reliability, consumer confidence, accessibility and broader uptake - without needing a multitude of plugs, leads or charging cards.
  • What type of infrastructure financing is suitable for electric and autonomous vehicles? Answers included the potential of green bonds to fill a gap, with the London Electric Company highlighting that their parent’s investment was through a £4.5m bond which was 6 times oversubscribed.
  • Is the UK government’s target of no new diesel vehicles by 2040 good enough, particularly compared to earlier dates set in China, Norway and Scotland (amongst others). Panellists generally thought yes, given the challenge of balancing technological capability and ambition, plus the challenge of delivering a consistent, collaborative plan on time and budget.
  • How can the government and local councils deal with the issue of “white elephant infrastructure” - technology which is changing and evolving too fast for effective decisions to be made on procurement and deployment.
  • The need to look at other revenue streams as well as tax and financial incentives – such as vehicle to grid technologies, and re-sale potential for otherwise stranded assets.

Contacts

Caroline May

Caroline May

London
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

London