From big investments in the electric vehicle segment to scooter invasions in cities worldwide, we saw a great deal of movement in the sustainable transport space in 2018. Next year is expected to be no different, and we can't wait to see what the future brings. Here are five trends to watch as we move into the New Year.
As mainstream automakers first started to dapple in electric vehicles, most also pursued mass-market price points. Without the tech expertise of Tesla, however, many delivered early EVs with poor battery range and awkwardly futuristic appearances that some deemed flat-out ugly.
Fast forward to 2019, and industry insiders are predicting a luxury EV revolution. Carmakers like Jaguar, Audi and Porsche are set to rapidly expand their electric offerings this year, reported Peter Valdes-Dapena of CNN Business. Audi is already taking deposits for its E-Tron all-electric sport-utility vehicle and will begin deliveries in mid-2019. The sleek E-Tron, which can go from zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds and tow up to 4,000 pounds, will join the Jaguar I-Pace in the luxury electric SUV segment.
Porsche's first all-electric car, the Taycan, will hit the market at the end of next year, Valdes-Dapena of CNN Business reported, and BMW also has plans for new luxury EVs in 2019. Even Tesla will come full circle with a re-launch of the Roadster, although those won't be available until 2020.
While Waymo backed off its original aspiration to launch a human-free taxi service in 2019, the company still boasts the largest autonomous ride-hailing fleet in the U.S. Its commercial robo-taxi service launched in four Phoenix suburbs in December 2018, albeit with human supervisors still at the wheel. The company plans to expand service in parts of California, Texas, Georgia, Michigan and Washington in the New Year, Investor's Business Daily reported.
Meanwhile, GM plans to "begin mass producing fully autonomous cars, without steering wheels or pedals, starting in 2019," reported Neiger of The Motley Fool. Volkswagen and Mobileye will partner on an autonomous ride-hailing service in Israel this year, while Toyota and Uber continue their own partnership—set to culminate in a commercial fleet of self-driving robo-taxis in mid-2019, Neiger reported. Ford is also testing its autonomous technology in Detroit, Pittsburgh and Miami with a grocery-delivery service in partnership with Walmart and Postmates, which will expand to Washington, D.C. in 2019.
In December 2018, California regulators voted to require the state's bus fleet to completely phase out fossil fuels by 2040. While the transition period will likely include other lower-emissions options like natural gas and hydrogen fuel cell buses, the decision paves the way for broader deployment of all-electric alternatives. Los Angeles County and San Francisco, for example, have both committed to shift their entire bus fleets to all-electric before 2035, GreenTech Media reported.
Experts expect others to follow suit. "We would not be surprised to see other states with environmentally-minded regulators follow California’s lead over time, just as 13 other states enforce California-set fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles," Pavel Molchanov, senior VP and equity research analyst for Raymond James & Associates, told Seeking Alpha.
Meanwhile, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will deploy 18 electric buses at its three airports over the next six months, Mass Transit Magazine reported last week. Chicago's Transit Board is also expanding its electric fleet with 20 new buses, and New York City is in the midst of a three-year electric bus pilot. Across the pond, Chinese electric bus manufacturer BYD recently completed its first battery-powered buses made in France. The new buses will serve Beauvais-Tillé airport, about 65 miles outside Paris, as Western European governments also begin to embrace electric bus transport.
In May 2018, Anheuser-Busch committed to order up to 800 hydrogen fuel cell trucks from startup semi company Nikola. UPS is developing its own fuel cell truck in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. And Toyota introduced a beta version of its fuel cell truck this summer, with Hyundai right on its heels.
By harnessing a chemical reaction between hydrogen and water to run a generator, fuel cell vehicles are essentially electric vehicles, "just like their battery-operated cousins," Casey points out. But even as companies are expected to continue developing their fuel cell truck technologies in 2019, they're neck-and-neck with battery-powered models in the race toward mass production. The Nikola truck will begin a limited production run in 2021, with full production following one year later. Meanwhile, Tesla expects to have its all-electric semi ready for fleet testing in 2019, and a prototype has already been spotted on a Los Angeles freeway.
Dutch truck manufacturing company DAF delivered its first all-electric heavy truck in December, with more expected in 2019. German automaker Daimler, parent company of Mercedes-Benz, also delivered its first electric medium-duty truck in Los Angeles last week. With all of these first to wrap up 2018, look for alternative trucking to continue its push in the New Year.
Richard Branson and the Virgin Group acquired a minority stake in high-speed rail startup Brightline Trains in November. Rebranded as Virgin Trains USA, the company hopes to launch a high-speed rail route connecting Orlando and Tampa, Florida, in 2019—adding to its existing high-speed service in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and a route serving Orlando that's set for completion in 2020. The company will also break ground in 2019 on an ambitious project to connect Las Vegas and Southern California via high-speed trains.
Communities in Texas and California's Central Valley can also expect the arrival of high-speed rail lines, although not until the early 2020s, travel media outlet AFAR reported. Amtrak customers will also have to wait until at least 2021 to realize their dreams of high-speed transit between Northeast cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Image credits: 1) Roberto Júnior via Unsplash 2) Courtesy of Porsche 3) Courtesy of Waymo 4) Courtesy of Proterra 5) Courtesy of Toyota 6) Courtesy of Brightline via the Virgin Group