Vehicle automation is expected to have a huge impact on demand for energy in transport, but there is very little clarity as to what the net effect will be.
A review of literature examining the issue -- Autonomous Vehicles and Energy Impacts: A Scenario Analysis, published in Energy Procedia in December 2017 -- found that the various studies undertaken pointed to anything between a 64% fall in transport energy consumption by 2050, compared with 2017, to a 205% increase.
This wide spectrum of outcomes relates to total transport energy consumption, not to the source of that energy, which was outside the scope of the study.
As a result, to determine changes in future oil demand, analysts must assess the impact of competing fuels and energy sources – biofuels, electricity, hydrogen, natural gas/LNG – and then place that analysis within the context of the behavioural changes brought about by automation.
A 50% share of electric vehicles (EVs) in the passenger vehicle fleet by 2050, for example, looks very different in the context of a 64% fall in overall energy transport demand – implying a potentially radical drop in oil demand -- when compared with a 205% increase, in which the impact of passenger vehicle electrification may be entirely negated.
There is nothing intrinsic to automation that implies transport electrification, but there are clear synergies.
For example, while recharging time is considered a negative feature of EVs, compared with internal combustion engines (ICE), it would be a much safer means of reenergising a vehicle in the absence of a driver. In addition, vehicle sharing, a development expected to result in fewer vehicles travelling more miles, would favour the lower fuel and maintenance costs of EVs.
What is apparent is that the first generation of robo-taxis is set to be almost exclusively electric or plug-in hybrid.
Volvo intends to supply the 360c to Uber, Waymo is building its autonomous fleet with plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacific Minivans and all-electric Jaguar SUVs, Navya’s Autonom CAB is electric, while Cruise Automation will use parent company General Motors Chevrolet Bolt. BMW is looking to its iNext EV and nuTonomy is moving from Renault Zoes and Mitsubishi i-MIEVs to the Peugeot 3008, which has both ICE and electric drive train options.
The worst possible combination of scenarios, from an oil producer perspective, would be a fall in…