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Powerful US lobby pushes driverless car cause

Innovation revolution: Among the backers of the Energy Security Leadership Council is Google, which earlier this month announced a deal with Fiat-Chrysler that will ramp up the software giant’s autonomous car program.

US energy security council calls for law reform to boost autonomous car sector

20 May 2016

A POWERFUL group of United States business executives and retired military officials urging a significant reduction in America’s dependence on oil has called for the removal of regulatory barriers and a national policy to help fast-track the adoption of autonomous vehicles.

Adding an influential voice in support of the technology from outside the automotive industry, the Energy Security Leadership Council this week released a detailed national strategy on energy security in the US which calls on government to “support, rather than hinder, the innovation revolution now underway”.

In its report, the council, which is co-chaired by FedEx chairman, president and CEO Frederick Smith and retired 34th US Marine Corps commandant James Conway, described this innovation revolution as “one in which connected, autonomous vehicles powered by advanced fuels like electricity and natural gas end the monopoly of, and drastically reduce demand for, oil in the transportation sector while virtually eliminating crash fatalities and granting new mobility to millions of Americans”.

“This national strategy details the enormous continued risks to our economy and national security posed by our dependence on oil-to-fuel transportation,” Mr Smith said.

“We’re on the cusp of the largest ground transportation transformation since the invention of the Model T, and we must ensure that unnecessary and outdated regulations don’t encumber its potential.

“Through a wholly new value proposition that promises a fundamental shift in how we move people and goods, autonomous vehicles will accelerate the adoption of advanced fuel vehicles while making our roads safer and our transportation system far more efficient,” he said.

In an effort to advance the next generation of transportation technologies, the council issued several recommendations, including the removal of federal regulatory obstacles to the deployment of self-driving cars, allowing broad commercialisation – “once they are as safe as today’s cars” – and ensuring that federal rules on autonomous cars pre-empt state standards.

The council also urged that federal regulation on automotive safety “evolve to a more flexible and collaborative model based on performance-based standards” and that an “alternative liability framework” be created for early autonomous car deployment in a bid to encourage adoption.

Other recommendations include establishing autonomous vehicle deployment communities to test the technology and encourage public engagement, and ensuring state and federal governments encourage the utilisation of autonomous vehicles “to expand mobility options for underserved groups”.

Policy changes to accelerate the adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles were also suggested in the report, including restructuring the federal tax incentive for electric vehicles to remove the 200,000 vehicle-per-manufacturer cap and phase-down beginning in 2021.

Furthermore, the council wants to reduce the value of the federal EV tax credit for vehicles over $US40,000, removing it completely for vehicles over $US55,000 – bringing it more to the mainstream rather than helping wealthier buyers purchase high-end EVs such as Teslas – and create incentives for buying medium and heavy-duty vehicles with an alternative powertrain.

Performance-based standards for freight trucks that “enhance freight efficiency and reduce oil consumption without negatively impacting road infrastructure or safety” were also among the recommendations.

The Energy Security Leadership Council is described as an alliance of business and retired military leaders “dedicated to mitigating the severe threat of oil dependence to America’s economic prosperity and national security”.

It is part of a nonpartisan organisation known as SAFE (Securing America’s Future Energy) that aims to reduce the transportation industry’s dependence on oil from 91 per cent today to 50 per cent by 2040.

It presented its report this week at an event in Washington attend by a number of industry heavyweights, including Google Self-Driving Cars chief executive John Krafcik and representatives from Transdev North America, Peloton Technology, NVIDIA Corporation and the Moovel Group.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is currently drafting guidelines for the safe deployment of autonomous cars, which are due for release mid-year.

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