Keynote Bill Van Amburg, executive vice-president at Calstart, the USA’s industry association working to develop cleaner, more efficient transportation solutions, gives his view on how California is facing the shift in mobility.

Your theme at VECS is Autonomous, Electrified and Connected Vehicles in California – Developing New Capabilities in the Climate Context and you will elaborate how California is facing the shift in mobility. What kind of transition has already taken place? What process do you foresee for the next 10 years?

We are now seeing an accelerating momentum toward electrification in passenger cars, and some exciting “beachheads” of success being established for heavier vehicles electrifying, such as urban buses.  So while by no means a completed transition, the pathways and pace to electrification are becoming extremely clear in California with the questions now are more when, and how, rather than if.  At the same time, the early shift to connected services – such as shared ride and transportation network services – has been dizzying in its speed of adoption. With most new cars adding backup sensors, adaptive cruise control, braking and collision avoidance, there is increasing acceptance of cars that help you drive.  And the adoption of such systems in trucks has started to make business sense in avoided down time and repairs.
Going forward – over the next ten years – we think will be an incredible time of experimentation as all these capabilities start to be brought together into full systems. If we thought the pace of change was becoming hard to keep up with until now, the next decade will dwarf those shifts in ways we are not yet ready to predict.  However, it seems clear that at least two pieces of the puzzle will be farther along together, and that will be electrification and connected vehicles. The need to significantly meet climate and urban air quality requirements will be a big part of this shift, and connected tech will enable the smartest use, tracking and sharing of these assets, which will be increasingly at a premium.  But there will also be battles on best managing the impacts of transportation services.  Partially as a result, full automation may lag the others during the next decade, as the field challenges of its use, cost and possible unintended consequences are debated. Our hope is we can reach agreements on smart policy frameworks that can enable effective roll out of these technologies in ways that reduce carbon and criteria emissions and do not increase vehicle carbon-miles traveled. But that may be one of the big tech battles ahead. It will be an exciting time – but also a time when the new “rules of the road” for transportation technology are written.

California is a center of this new capability. In what way is Calstart concerned about its impacts?

One of the biggest concerns we have are the unintended consequences connected services can provide of increasing vehicle miles traveled and increasing both congestion and energy use in transportation. From a climate and air quality perspective, the new tools could take us to a better climate world, or a far worse one. There are stop-gap concepts to require transportations services to be all electric, which can provide some help but is really not the full solution. Increasing the efficiency of the transport vehicle 2-5 times with electric drive is great; but it can be overwhelmed if we increase trips traveled and miles driven exponentially at the same time. So we really need what we believe are policy and planning “guard rails” to help ensure the environmental and quality of life outcomes we want. The other issues of concern are social equity; new transportation network options are fantastic, but have so far been tools of the affluent. If these tools start to erode public transportation, as we are seeing in some regions, how do most people get around?  Who gets left behind?  We must design ways to have public transport and connected transport services linked and working together as a system for all. Finally, we all need to consider the human impacts of automation on the work force. Bus drivers perhaps become customer service managers; but what of taxi drivers?  Truck drivers? Port workers?  We as a society must think about this transition in human terms, not just technology terms. What transition can we help these workers make as automation grows?

What is your view on how policies and legislation should be changed for making the paradigm shift in mobility successful?

We think there is a centrol role and need for policy to lay the foundation for success; the market on its own will not do this.  But to date policy efforts have been more reactive and behind the issue.  We need as an industry to help policy makers get head of the issue and agree to a new framework for how we want transportation to work for us, and what we want our cities to look like.  In that regard, we think the concept of “guard rails”, an outcome-based framework, is what is needed.  Rather than specifying the technology, we think setting the performance required is powerful – in this case, the performance of the system and the outcome in terms of reduced air emissions, reduced net carbon and reduced noise and congestion, and broader access to transportation benefits. The trick will be designing a policy framework that can set the rules to achieve these outcomes. Will it be use based, with a fee structure, framed on vehicle passenger miles traveled, carbon and emission weighted and time and zone dependent?  Will it have a steadily decreasing allowance for carbon and emissions to drive shifts in function and technology?  Will it require connection to a system of transport allowing consumers best options? This will be part of the experiment of the next few years.  But we know the alternative, unlimited vehicles on the road prowling for passengers, or delivering an endless stream of packages is not acceptable or desirable outcome.

What impact do you foresee that autonomous and connected capabilities will have for reducing emissions and energy use?

We think there is the capability for autonomous and connected technology to be safer and, on an individual vehicles basis, more efficient in energy use and more productive to the business.  In work we have done around truck platooning, for instance, there is no question that fuel savings can be real.  It is therefore possible that such vehicles could support a more efficient, lower net energy using and lower new emissions generating transport system.  However, that is not assured.  The technology is just as capable of supporting a much higher throughput, expanding and higher net impact transport system: more efficient per vehicle and per passenger delivered, but enabling and driving more net energy use in the system.  Now is the time for honesty around impacts, and designing systems and policies that guide our products to outcomes we can be assured of, not just hope for.

Could you elaborate your view on the role and impact of electrified vehicles (both cars and heavy vehicles/transportation vehicles)?

Fundamentally, what is most exciting about vehicle electrification is its ability to address two critical issues with one core technology: reducing urban air pollution and significantly cutting carbon emissions. In nearly all scenarios, given where electrical grid generation is going, using that increasingly low carbon electricity in vehicles helps us address the growing health challenge of polluted air in our global cities, while getting our fastest growing segment for carbon – transportation – under control.   This is doubly important when you consider the world trends in goods movement. While passenger car growth is flattening, the cargo and goods movement sector continues to grow and is an increasing share of carbon emissions. Coupled with that, increasingly the major and most dangerous share of urban air pollution is coming from large vehicles: trucks, buses and off road equipment. As these units can be electrified, they become more energy efficient (recent studies show they are two to five times more efficient than diesel trucks, particularly in urban driving), they account for much less carbon (and that carbon goes down each year as the electrical grid moves to renewable and low or zero carbon sources) and they emit no local emission and net less emissions overall. This is why we see commercial vehicle transition to near and zero emission drivetrains to be so important, and why we see urban regions as the best first targets for their use. The duty cycles for these vehicles can be met with electric drive in urban transport and goods movement; the business case can be a positive one in the applications performed; and the human and environmental benefits are the highest, fastest.  We have analysed the best early applications for success: transit bus; delivery trucks and shuttles; and heavy regional goods movement. This is why we have launched the Global Commercial Vehicle drive to Zero program, and why it is targeting large urban regions as the first markets of success.  We are exceptionally excited with the prospects!

Will California reach carbon zero transportation by 2045?

Yes!  And the state will meet that goal precisely because it is creating a new template that sets these clear goals but also is investing in meeting it, and restructuring its policy tools to reward it. Will it be easy?  No.  But the state is betting that it will be rewarded for its efforts by the growth of businesses, jobs and opportunities as one of the world nodes of an entirely new economy. And we are seeing signs of that success already.

What does it mean in practice that all future capabilities in California must provide proven climate and air benefits?

It means that there will be carrots and there will be sticks – rewards and punishments – built into future policies and regulations. And that increasingly those solutions that do not provide air quality and climate outcomes will pay more or be disallowed, and those that do encouraged and rewarded. Some of this could be via regulatory requirements (zero emission rules), some could come by access fees (ports charging lower fees to clean vehicles, high fees to high emitting vehicles) or use restrictions. I would look for more regulation and the potential for congestion or access zones that have differential fees.

Connecting autonomous and electric technology and shared vehicle uses will be increasingly required – how is California  planning for success in this context?

California, as I alluded to earlier, is looking at how to set an intelligent framework of policy “guard rails” for the use of this new technology. While some policy may be reactive at first and aimed at specific tech requirements, such as requiring transportation network services or automated taxis to be electric, over time the state wants to set policies in place to ensure outcomes and let industry meet them. And those outcomes will be NET carbon reduction and emission reduction, congestion reduction, and likely social equity and access to transport services for all while protecting public transport. These are the issues driving the debate.

With the OEMs moving into a new era, what role will new entrants have in the mobility disruption?

I think we can be assured that the disruption has only just begun!  Most of this disruption will be in the system of services that can be offered with connected and automated services, though some will come in actual vehicle platforms themselves. The age of the traditional automotive OEM as a seller of vehicle products may be waning.  The questions is, will they now become sellers of vehicle or mobility services themselves, or will they lose that connection to the customer to others and provide vehicles to system services companies?  Will OEMs be able to provide all the new customized vehicle platforms needed, or will they lose share to new platform entrants around the edges of these new services, such as small automated shuttles and rideshare vehicles?  I believe new entrants will be the ones defining much of the change; the real question is, can OEMs respond to the change and what will be their role in the future?  Will it remain a dominant role, directly relating to the consumer, or more of a disaggregated supplier of products to others who connect to the customer?  Given the costs of adequately integrating all the new technology, there is a need for OEMs to have both size and nimbleness to survive. But the new entrants may need only nimbleness to completely shake up the model.