2019 saw the mad rise of e-scooters, new EV models being released by car manufacturers, more cities investing in electric buses, and local and national governments restricting the use of diesel vehicles in cities.
At the same time, the transport sector is still the fastest-growing emitter of greenhouse gases, with sustainable transport held back by a lack of affordable EV options, slow charger network growth, unsustainable electricity generation, and gaps in public transport. There are also concerns about how electricity grids, cities, and businesses will cope with EV charging demands, which are only starting to be addressed.
How will these trends develop in 2020 as new technology emerges, EV costs drop, and markets mature? Here are our six top trends to look out for.
For those putting off the swap to an electric car because of limited options, the next few years will change the landscape of the car market dramatically. A 2019 report by AlixPartners estimated that the car manufacturing industry will be spending $US255 billion per year on developing new electric vehicles by 2023.
One result of this is that by 2022, car manufacturers will release another 207 electric vehicle models to the market, giving people more electric options from the likes of Volkswagen, Honda, BMW, Volvo, and Fiat Chrysler. As the EV market matures, more affordable second-hand EVs will also become available to consumers.
A few related and important trends to follow:
Large diesel vehicles, particularly delivery trucks, will experience a shift toward electrification in 2020. On the supply side, both Volvo and Daimler plan to start selling electric trucks this year, with demand coming from companies including UPS, FedEx, DHL and IKEA. In 2019, Amazon alone announced that it was buying 100,000 electric delivery vans.
This is being driven in part by policy changes; cities around Europe are banning diesel vehicles in urban centres, putting pressure on the production of truck alternatives, while in California the Advanced Clean Truck rule will require automakers to sell more electric trucks. While there are powerful environmental reasons behind this, there is also a push due to the health problems linked to vehicle pollution, particularly for disadvantaged communities.
Another large vehicle that could start to see some electrification in 2020 - the school bus. Unlike delivery trucks and other large vehicles that are constantly on the move, school buses are only driven for a small portion of each day, and sit dormant during holidays and weekends. This makes them the ideal large vehicle for vehicle-to-grid technology, as their huge battery packs can be used as stationary electricity storage.
The benefit? The energy stored in school buses can then be used by the grid at peak times, and fewer power plants need to be turned on or created. In 2019 Dominion Energy announced a plan to deploy over 1000 electric school buses in Virginia by 2024. If successful, the project could encourage more companies to begin thinking seriously about vehicle-to-grid opportunities.
Public electric buses are also seeing growth in the US, and are already the norm in China, which has 420,000 e-buses on its roads.
This year could bring the emergence of autonomous vehicle technology in public transport, with projects being undertaken in both the US and the EU. While autonomous shuttles have been widely piloted, autonomous public transport with fixed routes in urban environments are just beginning to be tested.
The aim of these projects is to make cities more livable by filling gaps in public transport, and to make carless lifestyles increasingly agile and efficient.
As high-quality customer experience becomes increasingly important, the transport industry may look to new AI technology and digital assistants as a customer service solution. AI companies like UneeQ are already creating ‘digital humans’ for a range of industries, including a customer service AI called Sophie at BMW.
However, the trend isn’t limited to high-end vehicle manufacturers; Transport for London has come out with TravelBot, an automated chatbot which can answer questions about the status of specific Tube, rail, and bus routes. While TravelBot isn’t as advanced as Sophie (and doesn’t have a human face), this is a step away from traditional journey planning and toward a high-tech, customer-driven era in public transport.
After a controversial first year involving city-wide bans and fierce debate, in 2020 e-scooters are becoming the new normal. As a fast-growing transport option, an eco-friendly alternative to driving (especially when each car has only one passenger), and a tool to reduce city congestion, governments are seeing the benefits and working to improve their safety and create updated regulations.
2020 should see e-scooters settling into the mainstream, and they’ll undoubtedly become even more popular over the next 10 months.
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