How much could connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) disrupt fuel demand? That’s one of the questions EIA (through contractors Z, Inc. and Energetics, Inc.) tried to provide insight on in this study, and this is an issue EIA will continue to study. The short answer is that by 2050, CAVs could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 44% for passenger vehicles and 18%for trucks, but those gains could be offset if these vehicles make it easier for everyone to get around thereby “liberating” shut-in populations (elderly, disabled and those too young to drive) and driving up vehicle miles traveled (VMT). The study notes:
“Fuel impacts due to CAVs naturally become more pronounced with increased deployment. While the effects of fuel consumption, compared to the EIA Reference Case, due to CAV deployment in LDVs only range from a -2% to 2% in 2030, by 2040 this range increased to -16.6% to 16.1% and then from -44.4% to 42.0% in 2050. As shown in [the figure below], there is still considerable uncertainty surrounding the fuel consumption impacts and VMT impacts of [light-duty] CAVs, and this is particularly pronounced for Level 4-5 fully autonomous vehicles. The largest influencer in potential fuel reduction due to Level 4-5 CAVs stems from vehicle and powertrain resizing. Alternatively, as mentioned earlier, fully autonomous vehicles could drastically increase VMT due to the ease of travel and more travel by underserved populations (such as the elderly and disabled).”
The other vehicle categories (commercial light trucks, buses, and freight trucks) only resulted in a potential for reduced fuel consumption compared to the reference case. By 2050, compared to the EIA reference case fuel consumption could be reduced from 1.7-18.2% for commercial light trucks, 2.3-17.8% for buses, and 6.7-18.6% for freight trucks, the study notes.
The consultancy BCG came up with a different answer in a study it released this week: 25% of all VMT could be in shared, autonomous EVs by the end of the next decade. BCG notes:
“BCG’s key insight is that the convergence of three trends—ride sharing (services such as Uber and Lyft), autonomous driving, and vehicle electrification—create a far more compelling economic case than any of these forces alone. Due to their ability to cut travel costs by 60%, shared autonomous electric vehicles (SAEVs) could shift about 25% of miles traveled from private automobiles-—creating enormous benefits for consumers as well as causing major disruption to the automotive industry. While total vehicle demand will only be affected slightly, by 2030 more than 5 million conventional cars per year could be replaced by a combination of fully autonomous electric vehicles for urban fleets and partially autonomous cars for personal use. Cities will benefit from less congestion and cleaner air, but could be disadvantaged by falling ridership on public transit, fear of which could result in some cities proactively trying to regulate the number of SAEVs on the road.”
Tammy Klein is a consultant and strategic advisor providing market and policy intelligence and analysis on transportation fuels to the auto and oil industries, governments, and NGOs. She writes and advises on petroleum fuels, biofuels, alternative fuels, automotive fuels, and fuels policy.