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The future of driving is autonomous -- but, for now, there are some great options
by Canvas • July 20, 2018

Someday in the not-to-distant future, cars won’t have steering wheels. Self-driving fleets of passenger-focused automobiles will ferry us wherever we want to go – faster, more efficiently, and most importantly, more safely than ever before. There are a number of companies pushing toward our autonomous driving future, from Tesla and the established Detroit automakers to Silicon Valley technology companies like Google and Apple.

But while the future of driving is almost certainly driver-free, there have been setbacks on the road to fully autonomous driving. Uber, for example, recently laid off its self-driving car workers after a tragic accident involving its self-driving car testing initiative.

A recent AAA study showed that following recent accidents, nearly three-quarters of American drivers reported they would be too afraid to ride in a fully self-driving vehicle. There are also regulatory hurdles to overcome as lawmakers grapple with the new reality of legislating a technology that is set to upend decades of status quo on North American roads.

In the meantime, there are a lot of futuristic options you don’t have to wait around for. From subscription services to by-the-minute rentals, there are a variety of ways to get around that simply didn’t exist even a few years ago.

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Here are some of the most exciting new options for drivers, and what you need to know to decide what’s right for you.

Electric Vehicles

Regardless of whether its a human or AI at the wheel, one of the most exciting prospects for mobility in recent years has been the advent of electric vehicles (EVs). Moving away from fossil fuels promises to significantly ease the environmental burden of combustion engines that rely on fossil fuels.

The emissions benefits of electric vehicles are compelling, but there are still some infrastructure challenges to overcome. One drawback to EVs is the concept of “range anxiety” – the fear that you will run out of charge and be left stranded with no way to get home. This idea has been one of the biggest hurdles to the widespread adoption of EVs.

Automakers are working hard to address this challenge on a number of fronts. First, they are working on improved batteries that can hold a charge longer and thereby increase the range of EVs so they can go farther on a single charge.

Additionally, many EV manufacturers are working on increasingly faster charging technology that can improve the speed at which vehicles can be re-charged. In the earliest days, you’d have to leave your EV plugged in overnight in order to get a full charge.

If EVs hope to replace internal combustion vehicles, they’ll need to rival the convenience of refilling gasoline and diesel cars and trucks. Thankfully, faster charging technology is already beginning to proliferate, and it’s getting faster all the time.

In fact, Swiss company ABB just launched the world’s fastest EV charger, which offers the promise of charging at nearly triple the speed of Tesla’s Superchargers. It’s been reported that the new ABB technology can offer drivers 120 miles worth of charge in just eight minutes.

While the latest faster-charging technology holds a great deal of promise, to fully address range anxiety, cities will need to build up the infrastructure to offer enough charging stations to inspire confidence from EV drivers. After all, cars shouldn’t just get you where you’re going – they should ideally be able to get you back home reliably, as well.

A number of regions throughout the U.S. are currently working to bolster EV charging infrastructure, and these efforts are promising, but we’re not there quite yet. According to GreenBiz, there are about 50,000-70,000 public and workplace EV chargers available in the U.S., but researchers say that between 4.5 and 5.5 million need to be installed by 2025 in order to create a truly robust infrastructure for EVs in America.

EVs are a great option for some people, but won’t be right for everyone until the infrastructure and technology catches up to the convenience and reliability of traditional fuels.

Subscriptions

Alternative fuels and driverless technology aren’t the only changes brewing in the mobility space – there are also new alternatives to the traditional buy-or-lease decision that offer drivers more flexibility than ever before.

One of the newest alternatives to crop up is the idea of subscription services like ours (Canvas), which challenge the long-held tradition of car ownership and offer greater personalization and flexibility for a new generation of motorists. The concept is fairly simple – for a flat rate, you get the use of a car without all the baggage that comes along with buying or leasing a vehicle.

There are many benefits to subscription services. They offer a level of simplicity that can’t be matched by ownership, packaging items like maintenance and insurance into one payment. Beyond the benefit of having less to keep track of, this offers a greater level of visibility into the actual monthly expense of driving – which can make monthly budgeting a lot easier for cost-conscious folks.

Subscriptions also remove the hassle of spending time buying or selling cars, including the time spent at a traditional dealership negotiating, which can be stressful. Drivers who go the subscription route won’t have to worry about high-pressure sales tactics or bait-and-switch shenanigans at the local dealership.

Most subscriptions, including Canvas, will instead deliver your car right to your door, ready to go with everything you need to hit the road – for a clear, set monthly fee.

Another compelling benefit to car subscriptions is the ability to swap your car out for a different model depending on your needs. If your family suddenly grows, for example, you may need to swap out a coupe for a larger SUV. That process is significantly less of a hassle with a subscription service, which will generally charge you a modest fee and bring the freshly detailed new vehicle right to your door.

There is also a lower barrier to entry for subscription services, since you won’t need to cough up thousands of dollars for a down payment. Every situation is unique, but for many motorists, the costs of a subscription are competitive with owning or leasing when you consider factors like depreciation, maintenance, and insurance costs.

Just like any other option, subscriptions might not be right for everyone or in every situation. They are usually best for folks who need cars for a medium length of time – longer than a normal rental, but less than the 2-3 years of a typical lease. They also might not be right for people who put excessive miles on cars, as most subscriptions, including ours, have mileage caps.

Finally, some subscriptions are targeted at the more expensive luxury end of the market. With the exception of Canvas and Care by Volvo, these options (from Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac, for example) can be more than the cost of an average month of rent in California. It all depends on what you’re looking for and what you’re comfortable spending.

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Car Sharing

Another unique alternative to buying or leasing that has become increasingly popular over the past few years is the concept of carsharing. Services like Zipcar and car2go offer rentals by-the-minute, which can be a great option for drivers that live in densely populated cities with good walkability and public transportation options – but still want to drive once in awhile.

These options generally work best in combination with walking, bicycling, and subways or other modes of transportation (urban planning wonks call this approach “multimodal transit”). You can call it whatever you want, but this approach can bring with it a lot of flexibility. And as they become more “everyday,” competition means their service is constantly improving.

However, there are some drawbacks to consider. Sharing cars and relying on a variety of other options to fill the gaps tends to work best in places like New York City, where few people generally own cars to begin with. In LA, on the other hand, you’re probably not going to want to pay for a car by the minute unless you never leave a very small area of the city.

The best and most cost-effective mobility option for each person will largely depend on their unique situation. The good news is that there are finally a slew of great transportation options to choose from beyond traditional leasing or purchasing while we wait for a future in which fleets of driverless cars take us wherever we want to go.

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