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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

Updated 8 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 10 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.

Updated 11 hours ago - Health

COVID-19 Omicron variant cases identified in Europe, U.K.

People wearing masks walk in London on Nov. 25. Photo: Li Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

Health officials in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany announced on Saturday that they've detected the first known cases of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The discoveries come as the world scrambles to respond to concerns over the new variant, discovered in South Africa earlier this week.