Feb 7, 2019

Parsing the profit formula for robotaxis

GM's self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV. Photo: GM

Automakers like GM and Ford are banking on the the assumption that if they can lower the cost per mile of self-driving taxis to $1 or less, demand will skyrocket. But a new analysis in the Harvard Business Review suggests their model may be flawed.

Why it matters: Carmakers are tearing apart their traditional businesses — exiting underperforming markets, closing factories and laying off workers — while diverting investment into future mobility technologies. But if self-driving taxi fleets don't take off as expected, their financial plans could be at risk.

What they're saying: Ride-hailing costs around $3 per mile today, according to GM, but only accounts for 1% of miles traveled. The driver represents most of that cost.

  • Without a driver, the cost per mile falls to around $1 per mile.
  • At that point, robotaxis will be so cheap everyone will travel that way — or so the theory goes. It's all about deploying at scale, as GM Cruise CEO Dan Ammann likes to say.

Yes, but: Authors Ashley Nunes and Kristen Hernandez see it differently.

  • They found the estimated cost per mile of a robotaxi in San Francisco was 3 times higher than the cost of owning an older vehicle.
  • The gap was due to lower utilization rates than carmakers assume. (Current taxis are in use about 50% of the time.)
  • Even if robotaxis had substantially higher utilization rates, the cost of providing remote oversight by humans must be factored in.
  • The only way for robotaxis to be cost competitive with older cars is if the remote operators are paid well below minimum wage, the authors said.

Consumer subsidies will be needed to realize the life-saving benefits of AVs, they conclude.

The bottom line: Self-driving cars need to be affordable to serve those who need them most, and to keep carmakers' strategies afloat.

Go deeper: Here come the robotaxis

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 1,513,358 — Total deaths: 88,415 — Total recoveries: 329,329Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 430,376 — Total deaths: 14,739 — Total recoveries: 23,707Map.
  3. Federal government latest: Top Trump administration officials had been developing a plan to give cloth masks to huge numbers of Americans, but the idea lost traction amid heavy internal skepticism.
  4. States latest: New York has reported more cases than the most-affected countries in Europe. Chicago's Cook County jail is largest-known source of coronavirus in U.S.
  5. Business: One-third of U.S. jobs are at risk of disappearing, mostly affecting low-income workers.
  6. World: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged countries to put politics aside "if you don’t want to have many more body bags.”
  7. Environment: COVID-19 is underscoring the connection between air pollution and dire outcomes from respiratory diseases.
  8. Tech: A new report recommends stimulus spending to help close the digital divide revealed by social distancing.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

U.S. coronavirus updates: New York tops previous day's record death toll

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

New York's death toll surged to its highest one-day total on Wednesday — beating the previous day's record. 779 people died in the state in 24 hours. The state has reported more cases than the most-affected countries in Europe.

Why it matters: Public health officials have warned this would be a particularly deadly week for America, even as New York began to see declining trends of hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 38 mins ago - Health

The pandemic and pollution

New York City's skyline on a smoggy day in May 2019. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

COVID-19 is underscoring the connection between air pollution and dire outcomes from respiratory diseases.

Why it matters: Old-fashioned air pollution is almost certainly the single biggest environmental health threat, contributing to the deaths of some 7 million people a year according to the WHO, making it comparable to deaths from smoking.

Go deeperArrow4 hours ago - Health