How our fascination with AVs obscures the real story

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ATTI‘s legal expert, Alex Geisler, considers how our fascination with AVs obscures the real story.

If, like Bruce Springsteen, you’ve got a ’69 Chevy with a 396, Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor, then I have some advice for you. Sell it. Last week, I rode back from the High Court in London to my office on a number 76 London bus, as I often do. Just like in many cities, London buses are predominantly hybrid. As history will doubtless record, the hybrid London bus was nothing but an interim engineering solution pending the fully electric product. Auckland will put full EV buses in volume service this year, Glasgow too, and London is catching up. These initiatives are locally driven, as you’d expect of a bus. In California, for example, legislators have said that by 2029 all buses in service must be fully electric. 

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that it had sent eight reporters all around the world to drive electric cars in different operating environments to see, in their words, whether the world is ready to make the switch. The answer isn’t entirely clear, but the reporters all had a fabulous time, I just wish I’d been among them. 

Meanwhile, back in foggy London town, one invariable benefit of traveling by bus, regardless of propulsion mode, is that you have plenty of time to think. As I reflected on these trends, I had a small epiphany. Full disclosure – I also had a small Danish pastry, but that’s another story. The realization was this: as commentators, journalists and lawyers, we have all been wracked with obsessive intrigue about driverless vehicles, but that’s not the current story at all. I get that there will be driverless Ubers, robotic pizza deliveries, and that driving won’t be a job. But none of this will happen in meaningful volume before the mid-2030s. If I still have any teeth to eat pizza in 15 years, I won’t care how it gets delivered. In contrast, electric vehicles of all kinds are with us now, and within a decade they will all but eliminate new vehicle production of diesel, petrol and hybrid models.

This upcoming era will also put an end to atmospheric emissions tests, for the excellent reason that zero-emissions vehicles will have no emissions to measure, so all those expensive labs and dynos will be superfluous. What about acoustic emissions? This is where the order of things will get truly inverted. Old legislation, for old cars, mandated for acoustic emissions testing, must be by ‘drive-by-noise’ tests, which Springsteen’s Chevy would doubtless have failed. New legislation, for new cars in the EU, and soon for the USA, requires AVAS (acoustic vehicle alert systems) to be installed in all new models, and retrofitted on existing models, by 2021, so they make fake noise when reversing or traveling at under 12mph (19km/h). As another old rocker told us, the order is rapidly fading, and the first one now, will later be last, for the times they are a-changing.

By Alex Geisler

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