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The car of the future will be autonomous

Olivier Reppert, CEO of SHARE NOW, speaks about autonomous and fully electric vehicles as the foundation for a cleaner, safer and more cost-efficient future of urban mobility, and of the role of car-sharing schemes as a key catalyst for the development of electric-powered mobility.

Is it really still visionary, the idea to use an autonomous car for the trip to the office and back? A car that will turn up at our doorstep a few instants after we have ordered it per mobile phone? A car that, after delivering us to our place of work, drives off to take other passengers across the city, with automatic stopovers at the charging station whenever necessary? A car that will use the night hours to transport the parcel with our online order from the greenfield logistics center to the city?

The car of the future will be autonomous and electric-powered – that’s what we at SHARE NOW are absolutely convinced of. As the little story above shows, this will also radically change the ways in which we use the car in urban areas.

Actually, this future scenario is not quite as futuristic as it may seem. All around the world, car manufacturers and component suppliers, researchers and various new players in the sector are working hard on the development of self-driving cars, more efficient energy storage and new mobility concepts. In many countries worldwide there are pilot projects for autonomous vehicles, and the charging infrastructure required for electric-powered mobility is being deployed at a rapid pace.

Sharing schemes turn idle vehicles into busy ones

For people living in cities of a certain size, this vision of autonomous, electric-powered driving is good news in several respects. Many agglomerations all around the globe are facing the same challenge: Their population keeps growing at a rapid pace – and with it the demand for urban mobility, leading to rising traffic volumes, lack of parking space, ever more congestion, noise and pollution. Self-driving electric cars can and will make urban mobility cleaner, more cost-efficient and, last but not least, safer.

As most car owners know from personal experience, private cars are generally sitting around idle for 23 hours or more every day. A vehicle that is part of the car-sharing scheme SHARE NOW, in contrast, is currently rented out up to 15 times per day and hence boasts much higher use rates. A study carried out by the University of Berkeley shows that a single shared car replaces up to eight private cars, reducing the overall traffic load and freeing up a corresponding number of parking spaces. In the future, the autonomous cars used in the scope of sharing schemes will be busy nearly all day long, multiplying the benefits that car sharing provides for urban traffic and parking space provision.

Joined forces: The merger of the DriveNow and car2go fleets has created the world’s largest car-sharing scheme: SHARE NOW.

Saving many millions of kilometers

The search for a parking space accounts for nearly a third of the kilometers driven in urban zones. Many motorists know what it means to keep circling around the block for 30 minutes before spotting the first free parking space. All the more appealing is the vision of living in a city where this kind of traffic has simply vanished because the autonomous vehicles of the future are either always busy and driving, or directly guided by a smart system to the nearest free parking space. This will save many millions of kilometers and drastically improve urban quality of life. The improvements in air quality will be of similar magnitude as soon as most cars driving around in our cities will be electric-powered.

This autonomous and electric future of mobility is going to be a quantum leap also for the concept of car sharing. By the way, I am absolutely convinced that car-sharing schemes will not only benefit from this development, but that they will in turn also prove to be a key factor in the breakthrough of autonomous driving and electric drive technologies.

Let us first look closer at electric-powered mobility: Already today, the fleets of purely electric cars that SHARE NOW is operating in Stuttgart, Madrid, Amsterdam and – as of the middle of January – also in Paris are making a definite contribution to accelerating the development of the overall system of e-mobility. Many people interested in buying an e-car are still postponing their plans for the time being because of a lack of public charging stations in their city. This lack is probably due to the fact that for municipal authorities, deploying a charging infrastructure is a rather frustrating venture that requires high subsidies since there are simply too few electric cars using it. So, at least initially, the municipalities are losing money.

Our fleets of electric-powered cars act as a kind of catalyst here since they make sure that newly deployed charging networks in the cities served by our scheme are intensively used right from the start. Stuttgart and Amsterdam as well as Paris as the latest SHARE NOW location do have a tightly meshed network of charging stations already today, which lowers the hurdles for potential private e-car buyers. Cities such as Madrid or Stuttgart are taking various measures of their own in order to promote e-mobility within their geographical reach.

Olivier Reppert: Car-sharing schemes prove to be a key factor in the breakthrough of autonomous driving and electric drive technologies.

Truly taxing real-life test for electric-powered cars

Moreover, shared e-cars mitigate people’s reservations about e-mobility. For hundreds of thousands of customers, renting a SHARE NOW vehicle was the first time they used an e-car and the perfect opportunity to realize that it offers a great driving experience and is absolutely fit for everyday use. And for Daimler, our parent company, the ‘truly taxing real-life test’ that our shortly more than 2,000 e-cars are put to day by day delivers valuable insights into battery and drive technologies. Not to forget the benefits that this ‘e-mobility test field’ generates for other companies, for instance providers of innovative charging concepts. You see, our station-independent e-car sharing scheme helps drive the progress of e-mobility as a whole on several levels.

Similar effects of car sharing can be observed in the area of autonomous driving. Over the past ten years, SHARE NOW has provided us with ample experience in managing a large fleet of many hundreds of cars in an urban context. We know how to organize highly efficient car maintenance schedules using dedicated software in order to ensure maximum availability of our cars for our customers. Excellent groundwork for the day when we will operate a fleet of autonomous cars!

This will save many millions of kilometers and drastically improve the quality of life in our cities.

Olivier Reppert, CEO of SHARE NOW

Ready for an autonomous, fully electric future

This is also true for the task of so-called ‘demand prediction’. Already today we use a self-learning algorithm for continuous demand forecasts in all SHARE NOW cities. This allows us to predict with high accuracy when and where our customers are soon going to need our cars. On this basis, the vehicles can be driven to the right spots in advance – today we still need service staff for this, but future autonomous cars will drive there on their own. For optimum distribution of the cars across the city – i.e. with a minimum number of empty trips and in line with predicted demand – all cars of the fleet must be controlled by an intelligent central system. This kind of ‘fleet intelligence’ will be at the heart of any future fleet of autonomous cars.

For SHARE NOW, smart control is not a vision anymore. We use this sophisticated logic every day for optimum distribution of the cars across the zones covered by the scheme. And already today, this data-driven and fully automated control system operates from a central location for all our cities worldwide.

When the time has come for us to start building a fleet of autonomous vehicles we will be able to rely on this enormous wealth on experience in fleet management, demand prediction and intelligent fleet control. We are ready, so to speak, for an autonomous, fully electric future of car sharing. One day, it will be routine for the car-sharing customers to be chauffeured to the office by an autonomous car while reading the newspaper or checking the appointments for the day. Quite appealing prospects, don’t you think?

Picture credits: SHARE NOW