I'm off to L.A. next week for the AutoMobility LA conference, where Axios managing editor Alison Snyder and I will be your emcees. Stop by and say hello! Then it's on to Miami, where I'll be moderating a panel at the Florida Automated Vehicles summit.
Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,567 words, ~ 6 minutes.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
A leading AV developer this week said self-driving cars just quietly had their "Kitty Hawk moment."
The big picture: It was a surprising assertion as the hype around self-driving cars has calmed, and most companies are recalibrating their plans for AVs. But in his optimistic blog post, Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron wrote Waymo's recent expansion of "rider-only" taxi service for early adopters near Phoenix puts us in a "post-driverless world."
If you ask Waymo, they might say their Kitty Hawk moment occurred back in 2015, when they gave a visually impaired man the first ride in an AV. Or in 2017, when they demonstrated their fully driverless capabilities on YouTube.
Orville and Wilbur Wright didn't have the internet to spread the news in 1903 after Wilbur flew their fixed-wing plane for 59 seconds, at 852 feet, near the outer banks of North Carolina.
Fast forward: As with aviation or the spread of electricity (which took 30 years to hit 70% of U.S. households), the shift to autonomy will occur gradually, block by block and city by city.
What to watch: The challenge is proving tougher than expected, but now that Waymo has shown self-driving technology is possible in some circumstances, the focus is shifting to commercialization.
Of note: Amid all the pessimism and recalibrated plans, Cameron, whose company is working on robotaxis for retirement communities, says he just felt the urge this week to pause and celebrate a competitor's accomplishment.
Uber self-driving test vehicles in Pittsburgh. Photo: Angelo Merendino/AFP via Getty Images
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says the first AVs could be deployed on the ride-hailing network within three to five years, but it will be other companies bearing the cost of owning and maintaining those self-driving cars.
Why it matters: Driverless technology is a key to profitability for Uber, which has warned investors to expect losses of almost $3 billion this year. But if all it does is replace the cost of a human driver with the overhead from managing its own fleet of self-driving cars, it won't be any closer to achieving a profit.
Catch up fast: Khosrowshahi talked about financials, autonomy, rider safety, unions and politics during a wide-ranging "Axios on HBO" interview with Dan Primack and Mike Allen on Sunday.
Ford's Mustang Mach-E crossover debuts Sunday. Photo: Ford
Some highly anticipated battery-powered vehicles are debuting next week from Tesla, Ford and others.
The big picture: "After spending billions on eco-friendly, all-electric cars that resulted in lackluster sales, automakers are shifting their target market from earthy environmentalists to gearheads and thrill seekers looking for speed," per CNBC.
Two important debuts to watch:
1. The Ford Mustang Mach-E, a performance-oriented electric crossover, will be unveiled Sunday night in Los Angeles, on the eve of AutoMobility LA, an auto and technology trade event.
2. A Tesla pickup truck will be unveiled Thursday, also in L.A., near the SpaceX rocket factory.
Using carbon pricing to cut transportation emissions could be tough, and Axios' Ben Geman says that some Energy Department data from this week helps to explain why.
Driving the news: The latest entry from the Vehicle Technologies Office's handy "transportation fact of the week" series compares a decade of changes in U.S. gasoline prices to vehicle miles traveled.
The big picture: The chart above nicely illustrates something that climate advocates and analysts already know: Big fuel price swings don't change driving levels much.
Quick take: The data suggests that a carbon tax would have to be really high to put a big dent in vehicle miles traveled. Plus, high carbon prices — for that matter any carbon prices — are politically a tough sell.
What they're saying: "It’s just really difficult to move the needle on emissions in the transportation sector," Noah Kaufman, an economist with a Columbia University energy think tank, said.
But, but, but: Kaufman, a carbon tax supporter who analyzes various Capitol Hill proposals, says they can still be a useful part of the transportation policy toolkit.
Expanding: Elon Musk announces new Tesla factory in Germany (Ben Geman — Axios)
Panic button: Cirrus’ private jet can now land itself, no pilot needed (Eric Adams — Wired)
Outlier: VW challenges rivals with $66 billion splurge for electric era (Christoph Rauwald — Bloomberg)
2020 Hyundai Palisade. Photo: Hyundai
This week, I'm driving the 2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited.
Quick take: After more than nine inches of unexpected snow in Detroit, I felt safe in the big three-row crossover with its all-wheel-drive capability.
The big picture: Starting at $31,550, this is Hyundai's biggest model, and it's going up against some stalwarts in the three-row crossover segment like the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
Details: The Palisade's styling, including a wide cascading grille (which isn't for everyone) and well-appointed interior with quilted leather upholstery, give it an upscale feel.
Driver-assistance features: Several advanced safety systems come standard, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assistance, a driver attention monitor, and a rear-occupant alert.
The bottom line: Even my loaded $47,605 Palisade Limited seems like a lot of car for the money.