5 predictions for transportation tech in 2019

Tesla's electric semi-truck
Tesla
Tesla's electric semi-truck isn't fully commercial, but it's changing the dialogue about electric fleets.

This article is drawn from the Transport Weekly newsletter from GreenBiz, running Tuesdays.

OK, you survived 2018 with its steady drumbeat of overwhelming climate calamity reports, political anxiety and internet data breaches. 2019 is going to be better, right? Right!?

Well, these three issues might be the new normal, but I think a lot of inspiring, important and uplifting events also will occur in 2019 related to sustainable transportation. Whether that's a big tech company converting its fleet to all-electric, a hot startup that surfaces with a breakthrough solution around battery power or new aggressive mandates and incentives that will reduce transportation-related emissions.

Here are five things I think will happen in 2019:

1. Amazon's transportation and logistics grand plans soar. Amazon not-so-quietly has been disrupting the shipping and logistics industry for several years. The e-commerce behemoth operates its own Uber-style on-demand delivery service Amazon Flex; it's got Delivery Service Partners Network for the entrepreneurial-minded; and it's working on a not-yet-commercial drone program. Not to mention that its Prime delivery service utterly has changed how consumers expect packages to be delivered. But in 2019, Amazon will grow its logistics and distribution network even more, looping out delivery partners in key areas and beginning a several-years-long morph into one of the world's most important transportation companies. This is particularly important because Amazon could use its large balance sheet to prioritize cleaner forms of delivery logistics such as electric vehicles and efficiency software. 

2. Uber buys Lime for billions. Uber is increasingly painting itself as a mobility provider offering various modes of sustainable transportation. If scooters are really the hot mobility trend that 2018 has promised, then Uber greatly could benefit from buying the biggest scooter sharing company out there. No doubt, this union is already under discussion, and Uber and Lime already work together, but a marriage could become even more important as Uber nears an IPO, expected in 2019. The valuation? Well, assuming that Lime keeps growing and doesn't stall too much, it's worth at least the $3 billion that it was raising money at in 2018.

3. Tesla's Model 3 struggles with reliability and price, but changes the game. Tesla and its fearless leader Elon Musk spent much of 2018 desperately trying to ramp up production of its lower-cost, more mainstream, electric car, the Model 3, as quickly as possible. To meet a crazy production growth schedule, the company even resorted to building Model 3s in a tent facility, with a production line built from scratch, next to its Fremont, California, factory. So it's probably not a surprise that early Model 3s have had reliability problems with software and hardware. Those issues could last awhile; Tesla's Model X cars have been on the roads for years and still seem to have issues. In addition, Tesla can't yet make the Model 3 at the base $35,000 price, partly because of battery costs. Despite these issues, Tesla's Model 3 likely will become the best-selling electric vehicle in America of all time in 2019. It'll also set the bar for the auto industry in terms of technology, such as user interface, autonomous tech and connectivity. 

4. The auto industry continues to hemorrhage jobs, profits. 2018 saw General Motors make plans to slash factories and workers, and Ford is expected to follow suit in a major way in 2019. It's the inevitable adjustment of an industry that is being utterly refashioned with technology — including electrification, autonomous tech, new access over ownership trends and connectivity. Expect more big announcements about cost-cutting measures from an industry in flux. 

5. Electric trucks hit a turning point. 2018 was the year of electric buses as transit agencies and school districts turned to battery power to lower emissions, curb air pollution, meet mandates and gain incentives. Yet there's still a dearth of electric truck models out there from the big automakers. In 2019, OEMs will begin to wake up to the growing market for e-trucks, like delivery vans, recycling trucks and cargo-handling vehicles. This market partly will be paved by e-buses, but it also will be dominated by companies' desires to save on fuel and operating costs.