Electric, autonomy the future of vehicles, but how soon?


DETROIT (WOOD) — The North American International Auto Show’s Car of the Year is the Chevrolet Bolt, the first all-electric vehicle to break the 200 mile per charge barrier.

The ability to take a plugin out of town is the breakthrough fans of electric vehicles have been waiting for.

“You can charge it and go, I think it’s 238 miles roughly. That’s sort of that Holy Grail we’ve been wanting to get to,” said IHS Auto Analyst Mike Wall.

But even with the added range the same questions continue to surround the plugins. Why buy electric when gas is relatively cheap?

U.S. auto sales figures show electric vehicles account for less than three percent of total sales.

Wall says don’t expect electric vehicles to suddenly take over the market, but the Bolt and other long-range plugins could be the beginning of a better path to the future.

“Our electric vehicle forecast is still pretty conservative because of things like gas prices and some of the technology hurdles that we are still overcoming,” said Wall. “But we are overcoming them and the Bolt is a great example of that.”

And while the push for autonomous vehicles continues, just how soon will be turn the wheel over to a computer?

This week, Kettering University President Robert McMahan is preaching the gospel of mobility through autonomous driving in a booth in the lower level of Cobo Center.

The former General Motors Institute in Flint is the school General Motors built to train the best and the brightest for the automotive industry.

“The Mobility Revolution has the potential for more impact in society, more across the board than anything we have seen in a very long time,” McMahan said.

McMahan rattles off a number of benefits to the mobility created by autonomous vehicles, including changing the landscape of urban planning to changing lives.

“You don’t need parking decks. You don’t need parking spaces. You don’t need traffic lights,” said McMahan. “For disabled individuals and people who have not traditionally been able to access transportation resources.”

While current technology makes it possible, other factor come in to play.

Infrastructure improvements are need to help driverless vehicles navigate public roadways.

How does that happen when we struggle fix a simple pothole?

Gov. Rick Snyder appearing with Ford Chairman Bill Ford Monday at the show says autonomous vehicles will actually cut infrastructure cost by putting less stress on roadways. And the governor says some technical improvements are already being made.

“We’re creating a whole loop around South East Michigan freeways,” Snyder said. “The new US-23 work going on, they’re actually embedding a lot of smart technology.”

Still, analyst say the technology is outpacing other elements needed to make driverless vehicles a reality.

While they will be road ready in a few short years, we are not all going to run out and buy an autonomous vehicle. It could take decades to phase out the cars and trucks that don’t talk to each other.

“That’s going to take some time to get to,” McMahan said.—–Online: North American International Auto ShowKettering University

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