Thursday, September 1, 2016

Why is Uber heading toward hybrids and electric cars?

Uber just made an announcement that its bringing in 20 Nissan Leafs to its fleet in London as a test project. It's being carried out to "look into the feasibility of running large numbers of electric private hire vehicles in the UK,” according to Energy Savings Trust, which is conducting the study.

The ride-hailing company says that 60% of Uber trips in London are being made in hybrids. Hybrids and electric cars have been visible for Uber in other trial runs. If you look at the Uber Partner website, you'll see a young woman leaning up against her Toyota Prius.

And here's another one: the partnership between Uber and Volvo will be carried out in Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrids. There are other similar examples out there in the market, including Lyft and General Motors preparing to test out self-driving all-electric Chevy Bolts.

Why are ridesharing companies using hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles in the test mode? Here's what I think:

  • Testing the economics. These cars are owned by drivers, who need to see financial gains from driving for Uber and Lyft. Hybrids and plug-ins means spending less on fuel. These cars, especially all electric, tend to need very little in maintenance and repair compared to gasoline engine cars; and less than hybrids and plug-in hybrids. 
  • Range is getting better: All electric cars have been getting better in the past couple of years. It's not just about waiting for the 200-300 miles per charge cars in the next couple of years. Plug-in hybrids are doing better, too, with more miles coming through the battery in the revamped Chevy Volt and other models. Hybrids themselves can do pretty well, especially the Prius. Mine can go about 475 miles on a tank of gas and get about 48 mpg.
  • Sustainability: Lots of consumers using Uber and Lyft, and car shoppers, are looking for clean cars that run on zero emissions, or near zero. It might be even more important than saving money on transportation. I've had a few riders tell me they love Uber and Lyft because they'll be taking cars off roads as more rides are shared; and if you ride in a hybrid or plug-in, that's less your emitting in greenhouse gases and air pollution. 
  • Trying out the new technology: Interested in buying/leasing a Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Toyota Prius Prime, or Chevy Volt? You can try renting one at Enterprise or elsewhere, but there aren't many available. Taking an Uber or Lyft ride allows you to take a ride and ask the driver a lot of questions on what's it's like to own the car. The driver will tell you - honest conversation is part of the experience.
  • Ties in well with self-driving cars: I've heard a couple of experts on urban mobility talk about how electrified and autonomous vehicles would go well together; efficiency in managing and maintaining these fleets is the main point made. Fuel cost savings comes to play, and you can monitor and manage the recharging process more efficiently. That will be something to watch. I would say that the future of city transportation will be shaped by electrified, autonomous vehicles tied into mobility services like Uber and Lyft. Ridesharing, carpooling, carsharing...... lots of sharing and less car ownership.
Electrified transportation is explored in my book Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders. 

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