Challenge / Goal
Commerce relies on business models to define the products that are supplied to the marketplace. Success relies on identifying the right product for each market. For over 100 years, the automotive industry has been based on the same general business model i.e., passenger cars sold to owner-drivers who operate the vehicles for limited periods each day. Over time, cars have become more than just a mode of transport – they have become a statement about that person, their status, wealth, values. ‘Fashionability’ of a vehicle becomes important – no one wants to be seen in a car that is too old, unless it is a ‘classic’.
This business model has defined how cars are engineered – a pressure to optimise the design of a vehicle whose cost is minimised and experienced quality is maximised at the showroom door, and which is designed to operate successfully for an expected, typical duration (time and/or distance) for the private owner. Considerations of maintainability and durability are considered only if they contribute to the expected life of the vehicle – going beyond this may not help.
In urban settings, it does not make sense that private cars are parked for 95% of the time. But, because this has been the norm so far, private car components have been designed to only last a limited amount of km. The problem with this is that the emissions to manufacture vehicle components are only distributed across a limited distance, hence giving high values of grams of CO2 per km. If vehicles were only parked for 5-10% of the time, the CO2 per km figure would come down dramatically, and also their total cost of ownership per km.
It has been suggested that the forthcoming arrival of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will change this. With increasing urbanisation and traffic density, it may be possible that urban personal transport will be provided by autonomous taxis that are no longer owned by private individuals, but operated as part of a commercial fleet. These vehicles would operate with much higher levels of utilisation, accumulating far higher mileage within a few years.
The targets and requirements for the engineering of such vehicles would thus be very different, and yet to date, product design specifications for cars are based on ‘business as usual’. Should such CAVs become a reality, the alternative business model could become viable, leading to radically different engineering requirements for vehicle design.
Hence, what we propose is an ultra-durable CAV, capable of lasting over 1.5 million km compared to current vehicles, which are designed to only last 400,000 km. In this project we investigated:
- If a use case of high mileage and high utilisation (>100,000 km/year and >80% utilisation) was possible for CAVs operating as robotaxis.
- If this robotaxis were ultra-durable, would they make a good business case for both fleet operators and the general public
- Would the additional embedded CO2 needed to manufacture ultra-durable vehicles be recovered through the vehicle lifetime, due to its high mileages and utilisation?
In summary, we investigated if ultra-durable robotaxis could make operational, financial and environmental sense in an urban setting, such as London.
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