When automobiles first debuted in the United States, they faced a classic “chicken and egg” problem. On one hand, autos were custom-made luxury items, affordable only to a niche market of affluent individuals. On the other hand, there was little incentive for most people to buy automobiles in the first place, as the system of roads in America was woefully underdeveloped.
Henry Ford managed to solve the “chicken and egg” problem with the Model T, the first product of its kind to reach the mass market. But today, there’s also another auto industry visionary facing a similar challenge in the 21st century: Elon Musk and his company, Tesla.
Ford’s assembly line and uncomplicated design allowed for cheaper pricing, which helped Ford sales to take off. With many new Model Ts hitting the road, the United States government was able to generate enough revenue from gasoline taxes to enable the sustainable development of roads in the United States.
More roads meant a renewed desire for more Model Ts to populate those roads, and so on. This was the start of a trend that sees 253 million cars on American roads a century later.
Cost and Infrastructure: Dueling Priorities
Fast-forward to today, and vehicle buyers have concerns not unlike those of early automobile adopters at the turn of the 20th century. Aside from the price of purchasing a new vehicle, most prospective buyers of electric vehicles cite charging availability and maximum travelling range as their biggest challenges.
Fortunately, EV prices are already falling due to advancements in the production of one of their key components: the lithium-ion battery packs that power them.
At one point, battery packs made up one-third of the costs for a new vehicle, but battery costs have dropped precipitously since 2010. That said, automakers like Tesla will need to continue to make progress here if they hope to match the growth and saturation of their forebears at the turn of the 20th century.
Charging Ahead of Demand
A study by the National Science Foundation’s INSPIRE Project found that the current amount of money disbursed as tax credits to new electric vehicle buyers (currently up to $7,500 per vehicle) would have been sufficient to build 60,000 new charging points nationwide.
The growth of charging station infrastructure is already astonishing. New public outlets have been added at a 65.3% CAGR between 2011 and 2016, and further growth will open even more roads to long-distance EV travel and network effects.
According to the math of the study, new charge stations would have a bigger effect on the EV market than the tax credits, and could have increased EV sales by five times the amount.
In short, charging stations will be to Tesla what roads were to Ford: the means by which they can reach lofty new heights of market dominance. Infrastructure development may be the “push” that electric vehicles need to get them over the early adoption barrier and into the mainstream. Combined with falling costs and improved efficiency, electric vehicles could create a Ford-like transformation within the automotive industry in a very short time.
Ranked: The Autonomous Vehicle Readiness of 20 Countries
This interactive visual shows the countries best prepared for the shift to autonomous vehicles, as well as the associated societal and economic impacts.
For the past decade, manufacturers and governments all over the world have been preparing for the adoption of self-driving cars—with the promise of transformative economic development.
As autonomous vehicles become more of a looming certainty, what will be the wider impacts of this monumental transition?
Which Countries are Ready?
Today’s interactive visual from Aquinov Mathappan ranks countries on their preparedness to adopt self-driving cars, while also exploring the range of challenges they will face in achieving complete automation.
The Five Levels of Automation
The graphic above uses the Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index, which details the five levels of automation. Level 0 vehicles place the responsibility for all menial tasks with the driver, including steering, braking, and acceleration. In contrast, level 5 vehicles demand nothing of the driver and can operate entirely without their presence.
Today, most cars sit between levels 1 and 3, typically with few or limited automated functions. There are some exceptions to the rule, such as certain Tesla models and Google’s Waymo. Both feature a full range of self-driving capabilities—enabling the car to steer, accelerate and brake on behalf of the driver.
The Journey to Personal Driving Freedom
There are three main challenges that come with achieving a fully-automated level 5 status:
- Data Storage
Effectively storing data and translating it into actionable insights is difficult when 4TB of raw data is generated every day—the equivalent of the data generated by 3,000 internet users in 24 hours.
- Data Transportation
Autonomous vehicles need to communicate with each other and transport data with the use of consistently high-speed internet, highlighting the need for large-scale adoption of 5G.
- Verifying Deep Neural Networks
The safety of these vehicles will be dictated by their ability to distinguish between a vehicle and a person, but they currently rely on algorithms which are not yet fully understood.
Which Countries are Leading the Charge?
The 20 countries were selected for the report based on economic size, and their automation progress was ranked using four key metrics: technology and innovation, infrastructure, policy and legislation, and consumer acceptance.
The United States leads the way on technology and innovation, with 163 company headquarters, and more than 50% of cities currently preparing their streets for self-driving vehicles. The Netherlands and Singapore rank in the top three for infrastructure, legislation, and consumer acceptance. Singapore is currently testing a fleet of autonomous buses created by Volvo, which will join the existing public transit fleet in 2022.
India, Mexico, and Russia lag behind on all fronts—despite enthusiasm for self-driving cars, these countries require legislative changes and improvements in the existing quality of roads. Mexico also lacks industrial activity and clear regulations around autonomous vehicles, but close proximity to the U.S. has already garnered interest from companies like Intel for manufacturing autonomous vehicles south of the border.
How Autonomous Vehicles Impact the Economy
Once successfully adopted, autonomous vehicles will save the U.S. economy $1.3 trillion per year, which will come from a variety of sources including:
- $563 billion: Reduction in accidents
- $422 billion: Productivity gains
- $158 billion: Decline in fuel costs
- $138 billion: Fuel savings from congestion avoidance
- $11 billion: Improved traffic flow and reduction of energy use
Transportation will be safer, potentially reducing the number of accidents over time. Insurance companies are already rolling out usage-based insurance policies (UBIs), which charge customers based on how many miles they drive and how safe their driving habits are.
Long distance traveling in autonomous vehicles provides a painless alternative to train and air travel. The vehicles are designed for comfort, making it possible to sleep overnight easily—which could also impact the hotel industry significantly.
- Real Estate
An increase in effortless travel could lead to increased urban sprawl, as people prioritize the convenience of proximity to city centers less and less.
With the adoption of autonomous vehicles projected to reduce private car ownership in the U.S. to 43% by 2030, it’s disrupting many other industries in the process.
Palladium: The Secret Weapon in Fighting Pollution
The world is in critical need of palladium. It’s a crucial metal in reducing emissions from gas-powered vehicles, and our secret weapon for cleaner air.
Despite the growing hype around electric vehicles, conventional gas-powered vehicles are expected to be on the road well into the future.
As a result, exhaust systems will continue to be a critical tool in reducing harmful air pollution.
The Power of Palladium
Today’s infographic comes to us from North American Palladium, and it demonstrates the unique properties of the precious metal, and how it’s used in catalytic converters around the world.
In fact, palladium enables car manufacturers to meet stricter emission standards, making it a secret weapon for fighting pollution going forward.
The world is in critical need of palladium today.
It’s the crucial metal in reducing harmful emissions from gas powered vehicles—as environmental standards tighten, cars are using more and more palladium, straining global supplies.
What is Palladium?
Palladium is one of six platinum group metals which share similar chemical, physical, and structural features. Palladium has many uses, but the majority of global consumption comes from the autocatalyst industry.
In 2018, total gross demand for the metal was 10,121 million ounces (Moz), of which 8,655 Moz went to autocatalysts. These were the leading regions by demand:
- North America: 2,041 Moz
- Europe: 1,883 Moz
- China: 2,117 Moz
- Japan: 859 Moz
- Rest of the World: 1,755 Moz
Catalytic Converters: Palladium vs. Platinum
The combustion of gasoline creates three primary pollutants: hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide. Catalytic converters work to alter these poisonous and often dangerous chemicals into safer compounds.
In order to control emissions, countries around the world have come up with strict emissions standards that auto manufacturers must meet, but these are far from the reality of how much pollutants are emitted by drivers every day.
Since no one drives in a straight line or in perfect conditions, stricter emissions testing is coming into effect. Known as Real Driving Emissions (RDE), these tests reveal that palladium performs much better than platinum in a typical driving situation.
In addition, the revelation of the Volkswagen emission scandal (known as Dieselgate) further undermines platinum use in vehicles. As a result, diesel engines are being phased out in favor of gas-powered vehicles that use palladium.
Where does Palladium Come From?
If the world is using all this palladium, where is it coming from?
Approximately, 90% of the world’s palladium production comes as a byproduct of mining other metals, with the remaining 10% coming from primary production.
In 2018, there was a total of 6.88 million ounces of mine supply primarily coming from Russia and South Africa. Conflicts in these jurisdictions present significant risks to the global supply chain. There are few North American jurisdictions, such as Ontario and Montana, which present an opportunity for more stable primary production of palladium.
Long Road to Extinction
The current price of palladium is driven by fundamental supply and demand issues, not investor speculation. Between 2012 and 2018, an accumulated deficit of five million ounces has placed pressures on readily available supplies of above-ground palladium.
Vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE) will continue to dominate the roads well into the future. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, it will not be until 2040 that ICE vehicles will dip below 50% of new car sales market, in favor of plug-in and hybrid vehicles. Stricter emissions standards will further bolster palladium demand.
The world needs stable and steady supplies of palladium today, and well into the future.
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