It’s back to school for K-12 and college students across the United States. But it seems that those in the autonomous and electric vehicle industry, regulators, and manufacturers still have a lot to learn. I am ecstatic about the benefits for the environment and communities once we have equitable and widespread use of these vehicles across the United States and globally. However, the industry and regulators need to assure the public that they are concerned with safety, the consumer, infrastructure, and the ability for a product to deliver what it says it can deliver.
Before we can get there, it appears that regulators and perhaps the industry as well are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation (NHTSA) sent a letter to Tesla TSLA requesting that they provide detailed information on its Autopilot by October 22, 2021. It would appear that the proverbial hammer is about to fall on Tesla.
Certainly, if you’ve read interviews that I have done with either MarketWatch or Consumer Reports you know that I am concerned about what I see as Tesla‘s craven attention-seeking action of testing purported self-driving vehicles on the roadway with no safety guidance, using the public as involuntary guinea pigs.
While other manufacturers have had to apply for permits in certain states and/or provide assurance of their safety protocols and standards, Tesla, which is the behemoth of electric vehicle companies, has been allowed to advertise full self-driving (FSD) when there is no such thing currently available to the public.
That doesn’t mean that Tesla doesn’t have something to offer. Our last administrations, both Republican and Democrat, failed to require Tesla to adhere to the same standards as other Autonomous Vehicle manufacturers. It doesn’t mean that they should be unfair to Tesla now that they have finally awakened and decided to review the actions of the automaker.
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The industry, both Electric and Autonomous Vehicle, owes Elon Musk a debt of gratitude. In fact, it is Musk’s Tesla and the widespread acclamation and adoption of the brand that has led much of the electric vehicle conversion across the world. It might just be that the cult of personality has overtaken some of the actions of the company and thus we find it difficult to separate the personality from the product.
Instead of condemning Tesla, perhaps the Department of Transportation (DOT) should undertake a public information campaign. This would do more to educate the public about Autonomous Vehicles than simply a review for emergency vehicle involved Tesla crashes. It is more important that DOT create standards for public acknowledgement of the vehicles highly assisted technology and how to responsibly use it.
If we are going to be evenhanded, we should also give consideration to the recall of General Motors’ Chevy Bolt for risk of fire. The recall is for all Chevy Bolts and the manufacturer has halted further production. This creates additional apprehension for the 46% of Americans who do not see themselves purchasing an electric vehicle.
As we look at communities across the country, not just the marginalized, but urban, suburban, and rural alike, there are limited options for charging. There are those who purchase an electric vehicle, but with the prospect of infrastructure to accommodate charging needs unsure at best, they are still hesitant.
If these were the only two stories in the news this week regarding electric vehicles it would appear that they are not ready for prime time. Fortunately, there is not just good but great news on the horizon when we look at electric vehicle companies such as Rivian and Nio.
While I have not yet had an opportunity to ride in a Rivian, I have been in and driven around in a Nio, model ES8. The Nio’s North American headquarters in San Jose and their smart electric vehicle speaks to the inevitable long lasting luxury vehicle that it touts itself to be. The vehicle was full of tech gadgets and artificial intelligence that not only highly assist in the driving experience but tackles everyday vehicle shortfalls that we have come to accept in vehicles until now. Digital voice Nomi is a cross between a virtual assistant and companion in the vehicle – answering questions and seemingly assisting with the drive.
The pocketbook holder space in between the two front seats is a godsend for anybody who’s traveled around with a big pocketbook that sort of rolls to and from in a vehicle because it doesn’t have a controlled space to sit in. The front passenger seat can push all the way back to the rear and allow complete access to passengers in the rear seats. As a parent this is something I would have loved when I was driving around small children.
Nio designed a battery swap model that to date in China has seen over 2 million such swaps. If we can ever adopt this model then we will be able to pull into a gas station, swap out for a full battery and allow the driver to go on their way in less than five minutes. Nio has just announced that they are ready for mass production throughout Europe and has begun offering test rides in Norway, the EV Capital of the world.
This battery model will certainly address those who live in communities that cannot accommodate charging at home. The ability to get a fully charged battery in less than five minutes and not have to address plugging in at home will be a game changer for many. It is also a good usage of already existing gas station infrastructure. If we turn our existing gas stations into battery swap and battery charge locations, we will be able in short order to address much of the consternation over the charging infrastructure.
Responsibly, Nio now requires all drivers to take a test on its app before unlocking the ability to use Navigate on Pilot (NOP), the company’s assisted driving feature. Drivers can only access the NOP after watching the informational video and correctly answering all the test questions.
Not to be outdone the Rivian review is probably the best rating I have ever seen from Motor Trend. The assessment of the Rivian truck certainly has me excited at the prospect of using one of their vehicles. Motor Trend says this is the most remarkable pick-up truck they have ever driven. Calling it … “part truck, part sport sedan, and 100 percent amazing”.
This not only bodes well for Rivian as it begins its delivery and goes public but is a leap forward for the marketplace. Electric vehicles are allowing society to address environmental concerns and issues surrounding sustainability. Electric vehicles will assist in expanding our workforce and providing jobs for those transitioning from traditional automotive industry positions.
The political economy of electric vehicles requires the attention of regulators, industry, and the public alike. We must apply the proper oversight and focused regulation so that this quickly evolving industry can safely and efficiently move forward.