Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Mary Mazzoni headshot

5 Sustainable Transport Options to Watch In 2019

By Mary Mazzoni
Set to debut in 2019, Porsche's first all-electric car will join a growing roster of luxury EVs.

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.

1. Electric cars get a luxury makeover.

Upstart automaker Tesla burst onto the scene in 2006 with its all-electric Roadster, a gorgeous sports car that could go from zero to 60 in less than five seconds and unapologetically courted the "car guy" crew. With killer torque and an unprecedented 244 miles of all-electric range, this initial proof of concept helped Tesla rise quickly from obscurity to icon status. Three years later, Tesla stopped taking orders for the Roadster, and it continues to shift toward the mass market—producing cheaper and cheaper cars that deliver the same industry-leading battery range and technology.

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.

2. Self-driving car services reimagine personal transport.

For those who can't quite afford a new luxury car, there's a good chance you won't have to. As technology reporter Chris Neiger of The Motley Fool predicted in November, "2019 is shaping up to be the year of the self-driving car service." Indeed, mainstream automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen—along with tech firm competitors like Alphabet's Waymo and Intel's Mobileye—are gearing up for a big year.

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.

3. Electric buses push forward worldwide.

More than 385,000 fully electric buses are in use around the world, CityLab reported earlier this year. China is the clear leader in the electric bus game, with 99 percent of the world's battery-powered buses, according to a 2018 report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. But the trend is beginning to take off worldwide.

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.

4. Alternative trucks usher in the next generation of logistics.

Hydrogen fuel cell technology has made big gains over the past year. 3p clean tech reporter Tina Casey covered many of them, including the burgeoning popularity of fuel cell forklifts and the world's first fuel cell passenger train. Concurrently, a handful of companies are looking to deploy fuel cell technology in trucking fleets, which are responsible for 23 percent of transportation-related emissions in the U.S. alone.

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.

5. The U.S. (finally) gets high-speed trains.

Even as high-speed rail services continued to proliferate across Europe and Asia, transit authorities in the U.S. were painfully slow to adopt the technology. But Americans will finally see high-speed train routes expand in 2019.

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 

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni